Debunking "Easy-Believism"

Many Evangelicals will tell you that if you just pray the “Sinner's Prayer,” you'll be saved, of if that you have faith in Jesus Christ, He'll save you even if you don't obey Him.  In light of yesterday's Gospel  (Matthew 16:21-27), I want to address why this is flawed, and what this says about the larger debate about “faith and works.” I'm very much indebted to a powerful homily delivered by Fr. Kelly yesterday on the true cost of Discipleship.

I. What is Easy-Believism?

So what is easy-believism, and who buys into it?  The Calvinist website has a good description:
The term “easy-believism” is a usually derogatory label, used to characterize the faulty understanding of the nature of saving faith adhered to by much of contemporary Evangelicalism, most notably (and extremely) by such Dispensational authors as Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges. The term was popularized in an ongoing debate between Hodges, to whose theology the label “easy-believism” was affixed, and John MacArthur, to whom the term “lordship salvation” came to be applied.

Essentially, the teaching of “easy-believism” (which proponents prefer to call “free grace,” or some similar term), asserts that the faith which saves is mere intellectual assent to the truths of the gospel, accompanied by an appeal to Christ for salvation (at the end of his life, Hodges embraced the even more extreme position that salvation requires only an appeal to Christ, even by one who does not believe the most basic truths of the gospel, such as his death, burial, and resurrection [which he clearly taught, for example, in “The Hydra's Other Head: Theological Legalism,” printed in the Grace In Focus Newsletter]). According to proponents of the “free grace” movement (i.e. “easy-believism”), it is not required of the one appealing for salvation that he be willing to submit to the Lordship of Christ. In fact, at least according to some proponents, the person appealing for salvation may at the same time be willfully refusing to obey the commands of Christ; but because he has intellectual faith, he will still be saved, in spite of his ongoing rebellion.
So understand right off that this is something your Evangelical neighbor might well believe in, but probably not your “Reformed” neighbors.

II. What's an Easy Way to Know It's False?

Last Sunday's Gospel was the famous one from Matthew 16:13-20, in which Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter, and founds His Church upon Him, after Peter confesses Christ's Lordship. I want to just remind you of one part, Matthew 16:15-16,
He [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Father Kelly pointed out that this is one of the clearest declarations of faith in the Gospels. And Jesus tells us that this declaration of faith comes from God Himself (v. 17).  It's not simply an “intellectual belief,” as if Peter deduced it, but Divine revelation.  Jesus responds to this faith by blessing Peter in the ways I've described elsewhere. But look what happens next (Matthew 16:21-23):
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Peter's confession of faith, while inspired by God, doesn't prevent him from becoming an adversary to God -- in fact, it happens almost immediately.  Did Peter stop believing that Christ was the Messiah? Absolutely not: even in rebuking Jesus, he calls Him “Lord.”  Frankly, Peter's intentions don't even seem obviously wicked: he's not pursuing wealth, or fame, or women: he's just wanting the Gospel to be easy.  

Peter is suffering from a “disordered love,” where he wants what's easiest, rather than what's best.  We see this in parents who spoil their children, and (as Father Kelly emphasized in his homily), we're each guilty of it, every time we avoid proclaiming the Gospel to those we love.  We don't want to hurt their feelings, or we ourselves don't want to suffer, so we avoid saying and doing what we need to.  We become obstacles to God, stumbling stones on the way to the Gospel.

Jesus doesn't let us miss that this is the point of His rebuke (Mt. 16:24-27):
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then He will repay everyone according to his conduct.

Christ makes it clear that total self-denial and obedience is required for Discipleship, and required for salvation.  If you try and cling to your old life, if you want to believe that Jesus is the Messiah but not respond, you will lose your life.  On the other hand, if you respond to the Gospel, He promises to reward your conduct at the end of time.

So Peter's believing that Christ was the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” was great, but not enough. Next, he had to learn to act upon that belief, by denying himself, taking up his cross, and following.  He does this, and  Jesus hints at his manner of martyrdom in John 21:18-19.  Peter will ultimately be crucified upside-down, after he declares himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus.

III. What Does This Mean for the Debate About Faith and Works?

We know from the life of St. Peter that mere belief, even a belief revealed to us by God the Father Himself, isn't enough to save us.  If we want eternal life, we need conduct, not just belief.  When Catholics speak of the need for faith and works, that's what we mean: belief in Christ's Messiahship (faith), coupled with the conduct Jesus calls us to (works).

But here's the deal.  Proper conduct is tied to belief: it's all part of walking by faith.  We see this also from the life of St. Peter, after Peter sees Jesus walking on the water (Mt. 14:28-31):
“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to You on the water.”

“Come,” He said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out His Hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?”
Peter's conduct (walking on water) was only possible through faith. We know this, because once he doubted, he could no longer perform the conduct.  That captures the essence perfectly: the sort of works which Catholics talk about aren't something arising apart from faith, but are a part of faith.

The same is true in Matthew 16.  We only have the ability to deny ourselves when we cling to Him.  Only in believing in Him can we have the courage (or the graces) to take up our Cross and follow.  No one in history has ever lived a life of discipleship without having faith.  It's just not possible.

All of this makes me think that the classical Reformed (old-school Lutherans, Presbyterians, and the like), are much closer to Catholics than they are to Evangelicals on the question of how we're saved. Specifically, go back to that definition from Monergism.  They come close to grasping this when they denounce easy-believism like this:
According to proponents of the “free grace” movement (i.e. “easy-believism”), it is not required of the one appealing for salvation that he be willing to submit to the Lordship of Christ. In fact, at least according to some proponents, the person appealing for salvation may at the same time be willfully refusing to obey the commands of Christ; but because he has intellectual faith, he will still be saved, in spite of his ongoing rebellion.
Although they're Calvinist, they clearly believe that in order to be saved, you need to:

  1. Believe;
  2. Stop intentionally disobeying;
  3. Obey.

Those are the three things which the “Lordship salvation” adherents, like John MacArthur, teach. For Jesus to be Savior, He must also be Lord. Catholics agree completely.  We just describe it differently sometimes.

In a nutshell, mere belief won't save you, and most Protestants (outside of the so-called “free grace” movement, which proclaims “easy-believism”) seem to agree.
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  1. I've tried to wrap my head around Lordship Salvation before. Where does it depart from the Catholic view of salvation?

  2. Restless Pilgrim,

    By no means am I any sort of expert on it, and as is often the case with Protestantism, we're really dealing with a somewhat amorphous set of views lumped under one umbrella.

    So some descriptions of it claim that if you've got a "true" faith, you'll automatically do good works, or have right conduct. But as the example of St. Peter above shows, you can have a faith revealed directly from God the Father, and still struggle (and even fail) with the cross of discipleship. As I've mentioned before, Simon the Magi in Acts 8 believed and was baptized, and still fell away.

    The patristic commentary on the phrase, "Get behind Me, Satan," is that Jesus isn't just saying "get out of the way," but also "follow Me." So He's calling Peter to proper discipleship, which He shouldn't have had to do if that automatically flowed from Peter's faith.

    That said, other descriptions of Lordship salvation sound indistinguishable from the Catholic view of salvation at least regarding the respective roles played by belief and actions, and their interrelation.

    Of course, there are still major areas of disagreement related to this: most significantly, the notion of "alien righteousness" (whether Christ's righteousness is imparted or merely imputed); the role played by Baptism, by sacramental confession, and the whole question of purgatory and indulgences.

    Nevertheless, if it turns out that, on the doctrine which supposedly justifies the Reformation, adherents of Lordship salvation more or less agree with the Catholic position (only using different language), I would hope that would cause some folks to reconsider the necessity of such an ugly schism at all.

    God bless,


  3. Glad to see you back on your blog.

    When you use the word "reward", do you mean "saved" or is it something else?

  4. Faith is a gift of God (the Bible tells us).

    Jesus tells Niccodemus the same thing.

    No one decides for themselves to become a Christian.

    When Jesus asked Peter, "who do you say that I am?" Peter had the right answer, and Jesus said, "...flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven."

    One more (for the free-willers):

    The gospel of John tells us that "no one can come to Jesus except that the Father draw him."

    That word "draw" is more accurately traslated tp 'compel'.

    My 2 cents.


  5. Old Adam,

    How does what you're saying interact with what I was saying? We agree that faith is a gift of God. He has to act first in order for us to respond. That doesn't mean we can't reject the gift, and (if memory serves) Luther taught as much. He wasn't a Calvinist, and neither are the authors of Scripture.

    Remember that the Greek pagans’ belief in Fate was virtually indistinguishable from the Calvinist concept of double-predestination: there’s nothing you can do about your eternal lot, no matter how hard you try (read Oedipus Rex or virtually any play involving oracles or the Moirae). If early Christianity taught double-predestination, we would have seen Christians praising the Greeks for their belief in Fate, rather than condemning it. Yet here’s St. Justin Martyr in 151 A.D., explaining one of the distinctive beliefs of Christianity:

    “We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man’s actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good and that one wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed.”

    St. Justin was born a pagan, and learned under Stoic, Peripatetic, Pythagorean and Platonic philosophers. So when he converted to Christianity, he wasn’t unexposed to the Greek notion of fate. Yet he tells us that it was a belief rejected by the Christians.

    If you’re right about what Scripture teaches, how and why did this happen?

    In Christ,


  6. Brock,

    I'm referring to the end of Mt.16:27, in which Jesus promises that "He will repay everyone according to his conduct." In Romans 2:6, St. Paul likewise promises that "He will render to every man according to his works."

    Both of those are ambiguous. However, In the next verse (Romans 2:7), Paul explains what he means, specifically promising Heaven to those who "by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality." Apparently, St. Paul hadn't read Luther on justification.

    As I said above though, these sorts of meritorious works are only possible out of faith, and are only
    meritorious because of Christ's promises (such as the one He makes in Mt.16:27).

    God bless!


  7. I ask because you presented two possible choices.

    1. Rejection=Damnation
    2. Faith+works=Being Saved

    My pentecostal background summarized it a bit differently.

    1. Rejection=Damnation
    2. Faith=Saved
    3. Faith+Works=Saved+Rewards

    Is that an accurate summation of what Catholics and (amorphous) Pentecostals believe?

  8. Joe,

    God makes us Christians. Period.

    He does this by Baptizing us, and by giving us faith in the hearing of His proclaimed Word.

    No one makes the decision for themselves, even though they may be under that prideful delusion.

    As for rejecting Christ, we are all born in that condition. (St. Paul; "No one seeks for God")

    I don't quite understand what you are asking me about St. Justin.
    Maybe you can put it another way.


  9. This 20 minute sermon on topic of how one becomes a Christian has driven more Calvinists/Baptists/Evangelicals nuts that I care to remember.

    Try and give it at least ten minutes and you'll see what I mean:


  10. Old Adam,

    What I'm asking is this:

    You believe that the original Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles taught that salvation is "compelled" by God's irresistible Grace, right? And that our works are worthless?

    If that's true, why do the earliest followers of the Apostles explicitly deny those teachings?

    After all, Justin says “We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man’s actions... ” Not simply his own reading of Scripture, but what the early Christians were taught by the prophets. And given how compatible irresistible Grace and double predestination are to Greek paganism, it's striking that the early Christians rejected such a teaching.


    Mere belief won't save - without love, and the will to obey God, belief is futile. So that middle prong is wrong. The other two prongs are correct, though, in that God's rewards aren't limited to entrance into Heaven.

    In Christ,


  11. Who's talking about works?

    I thought the topic was how we become Christians?

    But I will bite, anywho; our works are not worthless. They benefit our neighbors and they help to keep us in faith. But they merit us nothing in addition to the cross. Nothing more needs to be added to what Jesus has done for our righteousness in Him.

  12. I was not indicating those were my beliefs. I just wanted to make sure I accurately grasped what you were saying versus how it differed from what I was told prior to my conversion.


  13. Old Adam,

    I talked about the role of actions or works in the original post and in my first comment to you. And I don't think you answered my question.


    I know, don't worry!

  14. Joe,

    I think I pointed out clearly in Scripture and in Jesus' own words that we cannot do anything to become Christians.

    The Evangelicals (many of them) believe in making a "free-will" decision for Jesus. That might only be one small work, but it is one work too many.

  15. Old Adam,

    My question was:

    "You believe that the original Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles taught that salvation is "compelled" by God's irresistible Grace, right? And that our works are worthless?

    If that's true, why do the earliest followers of the Apostles explicitly deny those teachings?"

    What say you to that question? God bless,


  16. I believe what Jesus and the Scriptures say on the matter.

    When Christ tells Niccodemus that 'you can't do this, it has to come from above..." (and the other Scriptures that I mentioned)...that is good enough for me.

  17. Personally, Joe, if it comes down to trusting in often frightened, often untrusting, sinful men (as we all are at times)...or trusting what the Apostles said, and what the Living God Himself said on the matter...I think I'll stick with the Living God.

    You can choose whom you will on the matter.

  18. Old Adam,

    With all due respect, I think you're getting that exactly backwards. You see, we Catholics also believe in those Scriptures. We just don't think that they mean what you, an "often untrusting, sinful" man, say that they mean.

    We, instead, believe the interpretation of Scripture laid out by the Church, who is called the Bride of Christ, and the Body of Christ... the same Christ you rightly refer to as the Living God.

    So it's we, not you, relying on the Body created by (and metaphysically constituted by) the Living God Himself to interpret Scripture, while you rely upon yourself.

    Now, I know that you disagree with me on the definition of "Church," and that's fine, for now. Let's take the broadest possible definition of "Church," as simply "the collection of all Christians." Even under that definition, the second century Church didn't believe the teachings in question here.

    As I noted above, Justin specifically denies that the Apostles taught what you're claiming that they taught, and he’s speaking on behalf of Christians generally, not merely advancing some theological opinion. This same Justin was born in 103 A.D., right after the death of the last Apostle. At the time he wrote, there were men living who learned directly from the Apostles. Is it your position that you better understand the Gospel better than the entire early Church?

    God bless,


  19. I listened to around 10 minutes of that link theoldadam, and the main point seemed to be "I believe that I cannon believe...", which, without context, which was not given in the video, and without any additional words to follow the statement (which is hopefully incomplete), I decided to dissect the statement a little because it struck me as not quite philosophically sound. I, being a subject (and one asserting so also an agent) believe (what is the object of this belief) that I (the same I) cannot (a negation) believe (what is the object of this belief). So the first part, I believe, meaning as an act of the will or intellect (or not an act at all, which is confusing since I is the subject, and believe is the action of his agency), which is to say I hold firmly in my mind (I will use this to define belief) some definite idea which is the predicate. Thus the object of the first belief, which is confusing, is the second belief, but the statement doesn't distinguish between the two 'believes'. The second half of the satement says 'I cannot believe'. So in order for the statement to not be logically false at this point, since one subject (I) cannot contain contraries simultaneously(this is not open for debate, its just a logical principle as far as I know), the second belief has to have a different object than the first. So the obvious conclusion is that the object of the second belief is different than the first and is God. But we run into a problem because the entire statement is put forth as an article, if you'll allow, of Luthers faith? So the first belief would be a species of the second belief (the 'I cannot believe' in the predicate of the statement), and the statement still leads to a logical absurdity, either way of looking at it, because a species cannot contain anything contrary to its genera, only things contrary to other species in the same genera. So either this statement you have given us from Luther is incomplete, or logically false.

    Also, what is your definition of Faith?

  20. The Hope of Salvation For Infants : Catholic

    The RCC holds baptism as a sacrament and is needed for the cleansing of original sin.
    Problem 1 - original sin in babies - we do not know if they will arrive in heaven if they die, most likely not. - - - St Augustine
    Solution 1 - baptize the baby

    Problem 2 - baby dies before reaching baptismal
    Solution 2 – Must not be buried in catholic cemetery

    Problem 3 - Parents in extreme distress with the issue of what is the status of their un-baptized baby.
    Solution 3 - Create a place called limbo for un-baptized babies with original sin.

    Problem 4 - Parents still distressed with outcome of their un-baptized babies in a 'neither here nor there' solution of Limbo.
    Solution 4 - Negate Limbo as a viable option revert to problem 2 and find a new solution

    Problem 5 - Revert to Problem 2, what then is the outcome of the baby's soul?
    Solution 5 - Baby goes to heaven but cannot enter the Kingdom and see the face of God due to the original sin.

    Problem 6 - Parents still upset with latest resultant position.
    Solution 6 - The child enters the Kingdom of God and is maintained by the 'Blessed Mother' but still cannot behold the face of God, maybe.

    Problem 7 - the Church (RCC) does not have a dogma or doctrine position on the issue.
    Solution 7 - Pontiff Benedict calls for an International Theological Commission, to finalize the Church position once and for all, to see the commission call you can read it here, rather lengthy.

    Problem 8 - Stay tuned

    RCC Keeper of the script and the Chair of Peter for 2000+ years and the deceased innocent Catholic babies still have little hope?

  21. Dan,

    Your comment terribly misunderstands what Catholics believe on this subject, and Catholic history. But just out of curiousity, what do you believe on this subject?

  22. The historical record, I paraphrase in generalities.

    RCC Keeper of the script and the Chair of Peter for 2000+ years and the deceased innocent Catholic babies still have little hope?

    I thought the Church is the authority on this subject, or any related to the exegesis of the Word?

    The Pope, infallible in the eyes of the Church cannot receive revelation from the Holy Spirit of God related to this matter?

    The Pope has to rely on a International Theological Commission to resolve the impasse of interpretation?

    What does it matter what I think or believe on the subject as the Church has not defined it?

    That being said I do not believe that my child born premature and died, does see the face of Father God.
    Also I believe God is not waiting, biting his fingernails waiting for some commission much less the Pope to set heavenly policy or procedure.

  23. Ryan,

    I appreciate that you listened to the sermon.

    You are right. We believe that we cannot believe in Jesus Christ, or come to Him on our own, but that the Holy Spirit creates in us faith...or trust in Christ Jesus. Trust that He will do as He forgive us, keep us in faith, and grant us salvation and eternal life with Him.


    Glad you believe those Scriptures. That you don't see them as we do is the chasm between us...those who trust in Christ alone for our sdalvation, and those who add something (anything) to the work of Christ on the cross.

    Thanks for the conversation, Gents!

    Signing off for tonight.

    I'll check back tomorrow afternoon after I return from the salt mine.

  24. Is trust in Jesus Christ then, how you are defining faith?

  25. Dear Joe,

    I mistype my answer.

    That being said I DO believe that my child born premature and died, DOES see the face of Father God.
    Also I believe God is not waiting, biting his fingernails waiting for some commission much less the Pope to set heavenly policy or procedure.

    I base my belief as did father Abraham when he said of the Lord:

    Gen 18:25 That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? …… Abraham

  26. Dan,

    Do you believe in original sin?

    Old Adam,

    Like I said, we both believe in the Scriptures. And like you said, our differing interpretations is why there's the regrettable chasm between us.

    But where do we look to resolve this chasm? Where should we look for an objective interpretation of what Scripture means when we genuinely disagree like this?

    God bless,


  27. "Also I believe God is not waiting, biting his fingernails waiting for some commission much less the Pope to set heavenly policy or procedure"

    ...and you think that Catholics do think that?

    I'm really interested to see how you answer Joe's question about whether or not you believe in original sin.

  28. Brother,

    Nice post. Where do you find the time? It must be quite fulfilling for you to simply write them and even more so fun to dialog on them after the fact. Nice.

    Read all the comments and don't think I have much to add to them so I'll jump ahead to my question which might be similar to one of them but I'm not so sure.

    You wrote: "If we want eternal life, we need conduct, not just belief. When Catholics speak of the need for faith and works, that's what we mean: belief in Christ's Messiahship (faith), coupled with the conduct Jesus calls us to (works)."

    It strikes me that what many "faith alone" protestants (and here I believe we must couple "faith alone" with "once saved always saved) mean regarding the works you mention here and the works they perceive done by Catholics are different. Or are they?

    You talk here of picking up and carrying our cross. You're describing complete life change...a re-vectoring and re-centering of all we do and who we are. At least that's what I think you're describing. You mention Peter walking out onto the faith I think we agree that upon his doubt, fear, and lack of faith - thinking he was the one doing the walking - centering on himself and what "he" was doing as opposed to looking at Christ and striving toward Him....that is when Peter began to sink.

    I believe faith alone protestants would agree with the above and agree that is the kind of faith/conduct that evidences or provides "assurance" of salvation. However, when those same protestants look at Catholic practice, that is not what they are thinking of in terms of "the conduct Jesus calls us to (works.)"

    What they see are people who just go to Mass, rarely if ever go to Confession and after don't exhibit any real change, baptize infants thinking that somehow "imparts" faith and salvation but then never actually teach their children anything let alone pick up a bible themselves. They see Catholics who work very hard doing volunteer acts of service but never speak of Jesus and further balk at the idea that for the poor/suffering/oppressed/needy they are serving Jesus is still necessary for salvation.

    I could keep going with these examples, but I think that is the debate about faith and works those "faith alone" protestants are having. They are not speaking of people who clearly demonstrate a complete life refocus onto Jesus that then produces "fruit." They are talking about lives that demonstrate nothing of the sort yet entirely busy "doing stuff" thinking that it's the stuff or "works" that save them. Come to think of it, I don't even believe they'd necessarily condemn those who believe their good works will save them. I think they more rightfully condemn those who don't really care much about salvation or even believe it's necessary (that Jesus is necessary). They mostly condemn those who simply "believe in the good works."

    It might be a subtle difference, but I think it's critical to the discussion. Catholic or not, maybe a Gaia worshiper, or a agnostic environmentalist, or atheistic humanist...what "faith alone" protestants are arguing against in the faith and works debate is a "worship of works." If your "works" are your god, or even if all you can articulate as good is the works you do...a faith alone protestant is going to question your salvation/belief/belonging in Christ.

    It's early and that might not have made any sense, but I hope I've better articulated what I think their perspective of the debate is.


  29. Now that the blood is moving a little better, I think a better way of stating what I'm trying is to say this...

    Faith alone protestants aren't debating the same faith / works debate you are. At least not the one articulated in your post. They are arguing against the notion that salvation comes because one is a "good person," and that to become a "good person" one need only do "good things." In the Catholic arena of this debate for them is the notion that the "good things" could be as simple and even limited to going to Mass, taking Communion, volunteering at the parish, sending kids to RE, or even participating in Sacramental acts when one can't even articulate what those acts are or do...engaging in sacraments/church from a place of disinterested ignorance.

    Maybe that makes more sense.


  30. DJ|AMDG,

    I think you're right on the money about this. For starters, Catholics and Protestants often mean different things by both the term "faith" and the term "works." There's also the fact that there are real cultural differences between how American Catholics and Protestants behave, particularly Evangelicals.

    This is true both of lax Catholics (like you mention) but even a lot of fervent Catholics. We often don't act like Protestants, so it can be harder for us to recognize sanctity in one another.

    In general, when we talk about the necessity of works for salvation, I think Protestants often imagine that we Catholic mean something like the Labors of Hercules: "complete this checklist of chores and you can earn eternal life."

    But that's not what we're saying at all. Instead, we're saying you can't just believe (even the devil does that) -- you have to act upon that belief.

    The Lordship salvation folks do a good job of summing it up pithily: Jesus is Lord and Savior. You can't separate the two: He's either both or neither.

    Of course, this spells trouble for any Catholics who are "phoning it in," so to speak: doing what they feel obliged to do, and nothing more. That's not really living as disciples of Christ from either a Protestant or a Catholic perspective. The whole point of "faith plus works" is that Jesus' call to discipleship is a call to give up everything and follow Him. That's more than a one hour a week obligation, obviously.

    God bless,


  31. @ DJ | AMDG

    Don't confuse the practices of lax Catholics with the Sacramental life of the Church which has been practiced since the Ascension of Christ.

    The Church doesn't teach "works salvation" as so many Bible-Christians believe. I quote from paragraph 161 of the Catechism:

    Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. "Since 'without faith it is impossible to please [God]" and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life 'But he who endures to the end.'"

    @ Dan

    "What does it matter what I think or believe on the subject as the Church has not defined it?"

    Ignoring your silly caricatures of the Church's teachings for now, you need to understand that the Church does not go around defining the faith arbitrarily. Doctrines are defined when it is necessary to clarify on a pressing topic and / or to correct error. Otherwise, the Church says "I'm not sure yet" and moves on. This is the action of the Holy Spirit, bringing about the humility of the Bride of Christ, which is in stark contrast to your arrogant pontificating.

    And as regards all of the posts of Dan Bryan and "theoldadam" here, Saints preserve us from Bible-Christians who can't justify their first principles, above all that heinous lie of sola scriptura.

    You say Scripture is your authority. Wonderful. Where did "Scripture" come from? How do you know which writings belong to "Scripture"? Is "Scripture" complete? Think, think, think, dear Bible-Christians.

    The Bible is a gift of the Holy Spirit, given to the world through the Holy Catholic Church, the only Church that was ever founded by Jesus Christ Himself. I do not know what Scripture is unless the Catholic Church tells me, for "I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." (St. Augustine, from Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus)

    If you deny the authority of the Catholic Church, you deny the authority of Scripture.

  32. I appreciate your concession that the majority of evangelicals view easy believes as false teaching. I read an Orthodox post similar to this one that depicted all of evangelicalism as holding to easy believism and I thought this was uncharitable.


  33. Bradley,

    Thanks, I appreciate it. I think that the Catholic-Protestant debates over justification would be comical, if they weren't so destructive.

    The actual difference between what orthodox Catholics and most Protestants believe on the interplay between faith and works are narrow and somewhat nuanced. C.S. Lewis was right to laugh it off as "which side of the scissors does the cutting."

    But we argue like bitter exes over this issue, and as a result, each side tends to think that the other is much more extreme than they are: Catholics tend to believe that Protestants think that works play no role in our pilgrimage towards Heaven, and Protestants tend to believe that Catholics are trying to get enough brownie points to buy salvation.

    Worse yet, Christians trying to preserve their distinctive identity as Catholics or Protestants sometimes gravitate towards these absurd stereotypes. Google "Lordship salvation" and Catholic, and you'll see that one of the opponents' major arguments against it isn't that it's wrong or against Scripture, but that it's too Catholic.

    As I've gotten to better understand the issue, and in particular, spoken to Catholic converts who used to believe sola fide, I've been surprised how narrow the issue truly is. Real differences exist, but it's a matter of of inches, not miles.

    How does that assessment compare with what you've seen as a Tradition-hungry Protestant?

    God bless,


  34. "The Lordship salvation folks do a good job of summing it up pithily: Jesus is Lord and Savior. You can't separate the two: He's either both or neither."

    oooh...I like this - I'm absolutely stealing it!

    Kinda reminds me of something I read in a book ;-) ... He said that separating faith and works is like trying to separate body and spirit...

  35. Hi Joe,

    Thanks, as ever, for a great thought- and conversation-provoking post.

    I’m no theologian, but it has always seemed to me that underlying differences regarding the nature of justification (imputation vs. infusion) are what keep this “debate” alive. After all, seeing how (many) Protestants and Catholics are indeed so close in how we describe the importance, necessity, and relationship between faith and works, I think that identifying what keeps the debate alive is an intriguing problem.

    For the folks who believe that God declares us righteous in an act of imputation, it is hard to understand how works (good or bad...or as some would say, they're all bad) could be significant or consequential at all, since all God “sees” when he looks at us is Christ’s righteousness, which effectively hides our ongoing, underlying putrid vileness (not to put too fine a point on it).

    For those who believe that God imputes His righteousness in us, thereby making us truly holy and righteous, then it is easy to understand how the faith AND good works that we accomplish as a result of His grace working through us are important for our justification and final salvation, since God is actually looking at us when we meet him in heaven. He sees US, and he loves US, for who we really are (His children), for what we have become (like Him in holiness), and how we have responded to being in relationship with Him (faith and good works).

    The fact that so many Protestants with whom I dialogue are stating a position on faith and works that is so very Catholic makes me think that there has been a quiet shift toward infusion in the thinking of these Christian brothers and sisters.

    The question I would ask your correspondents is: which side do you fall on? If you believe that God imputes His righteousness to us the moment we have true faith, then how could any works (good or bad) that follow matter? If you believe that God makes us righteous by infusing his righteousness in us, then how could our good works (all of which we attribute to God working through us in a life of faith) not make a difference when God sees us on our day of judgment?

    In Christ,


  36. This is a great discussion, Joe. I don't quite understand all there is to reformed theology (even though I currently attend a reformed protestant church), but you've raised some though-provoking questions. My question is a follow up to what Ready has pointed out above:
    If it is true that we have been declared righteous in the heavenly court such that nothing we do (or don't do?) can change that heavenly status, then why did Jesus tell us to pray for forgiveness in the Lord's Prayer? Is that part just a formality, since we've already been declared righteous?

  37. Daniel,

    That comment was awesome. I'm persuaded that you're right: the more important question is how we take part in Christ's righteousness, not how we acquire it (we all agree: by grace, through faith). The imputation of Christ's grace, as opposed to "alien righteousness," is the more important question.


    Thanks! And as for your questions, we're on the same wavelength. Back in June, I wrote a post on the exact question you just raised.  If Christ's “alien righteousness” if simply imputed to us, where God the Father never looks at our merits or dismerits at all, then we don't need to be forgiven once we're “saved.”  So daily praying “give us this day our Daily Bread, and forgive us our trespasses” (in the present tense) would be worse than a formality. It'd be sinful: it'd be doubting a gift God's already given us.

    Worse yet, we pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and in explaining this prayer, Christ specifically says that if we refuse to forgive, we won't be forgiven (see Matthew 6:15).

    Luther and Calvin offer answers to this question, which I quote in the post, but I don't find either to be persuasive.  Luther's Catechism essentially denies that Matthew 6:15 is true.

  38. Ryan,

    Yes, "faith" is trusting in the person of Jesus Christ that He loves and forgives you and that He gives you His righteousness.


    I think you know my answer (ahead of time) because I have given you the same answer many times before. We know we are able to trust the gospel of Christ Jesus in the Scriptures because it is the power of God to create faith in those who hear it.

    For us Lutherans, that Word (the forgiveness of our sins and God's 'YES' for us, His acceptance of us, is what we trust. It is the grid through which we interpret all of Scripture.


  39. old adam,

    so both you and joe are correct? or are you implying that Joe, and many others here along with all Catholics and/or those that don't have your viewpoint, must not have faith in Him since they don't get the same interpretation as you?

    That seems like only the logical conclusion from your statement.

    In Christ

  40. old adam,

    also did you ever come up with an answer to "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" ?

  41. @Telemachus

    "What does it matter what I think or believe on the subject as the Church has not defined it?"
    What does it matter? You pose my question back to me without an answer? The answer is it DOES NOT MATTER!
    Let God be true and every man, including the pope and pontificating Dan be a liar. (Rom 3:4)

    Arrogance maybe, but pontificating, no, as this not the job of the Pope? I pontificate nothing.
    Sola Scripture - Relying on God's word alone is a lie? Heinous Lie?
    Holding forth the word of life otherwise your pilgrimage and works are vain (Phl 2:16)

    I said nothing of Sola Scripture, but since you brought it up:.........
    If the church says 'I am not sure yet' and moves on, where is the Christian to put his faith and trust except the word of God?
    The action of the Holy Spirit is to lead the children of God into all truth, (Jhn 16:13) or to humiliate the Bride of Christ by withholding truth? (Tele 1:1)

    Don't pull 'the saint card' on me, it means nothing!

  42. @ Joe Heschmeyer

    'Do I believe in original sin.'

    Romans Chapter 5 answers the topic of original sin.
    By One man, Adam, sin entered into the earth.
    By one man, the Son of God, was the curse of original sin, paid, and replaced with grace.

  43. TheOldAdam, sorry to seem pedantic, can you define trust, too? Just so we're all on the same page.

  44. scredsoxfan2,

    I never imply, or even mean to sound as if I know who has faith and who does not.

    I'm not sure where you got that from.

    WE have a disagreement about where the authority to teach, and preach, and proclain Christ derives.

    Here's a NEW class on the topic by my pastor:

    I don't expect you or anyone here to agree with what is being taught in this very interesting class, but it is well worth a listen to know why Lutherans believe as they do about the authority deriving from God Himself.


  45. old adam,

    you imply by your comments that you are right about your interpretation of Scripture (on works). If so, that means that Joe and I and a lot of other folks that dont have your view must be wrong.

    You indicated that you are right because you view Scripture "properly" via the Word (an thing you have yet to provide any real definition to, but that's beside the point) or faith as I seem to understand from what you have said.

    So to say that you are right because you have the proper faith to see it correctly, is to say that we have it wrong because we do not have proper faith. Is there something wrong with this view?

  46. Joe,

    Your assessment matches my own experience exactly. The differences are so minute in the big picture of things, but Protestants will often say that a minute change in theological detail can make the difference between the gospel and a false-gospel. The latter may be true I suppose in some sense, but small differences can also be fueled with long-standing ignorance and prejudice too.


  47. The Word is Christ Jesus Himself.

    Christ Jesus has revealed His will for us (to forgive our sins) in Holy Scripture, and in the preaching and teaching about Himself and the administering of the sacraments.

    The Word comes to us in law, and gospel.

    The law is demand, and is never fulfilled by us (perfectly, as the law requires). And the gospel in that Jesus has forgiven us and has fulfilled the law FOR us.

  48. So when the Word (in it's law and gospel) bring people to repentance, and then brings them to faith...we say (as with St. Paul in Romans 1:16)that the Word creates fauith in those who hear it, and they come to faith by the authority of that Word, and that Word alone.

    There's nothing that we can do to add to it, or make it more than a power than it already is.

    It's pretty simple. But not a lot of people buy it.

    But we do.

  49. Old Adam,

    I think Cary's question was a good one, and I'm not sure I understand your answer.

    We both believe in the New Testament, and earnestly pursue after Christ, and actively seek to understand the Gospel. Neither of us would spend as much time as we do if it weren't for those things. But we disagree about how to understand Scripture on these points.

    I wanted to know how we should resolve these disputes when they inevitably rise (and of course, they arise even within Lutheranism itself, which is why you're fractured into over two dozen separate denominations). In response, you said:

    "Glad you believe those Scriptures. That you don't see them as we do is the chasm between us...those who trust in Christ alone for our salvation, and those who add something (anything) to the work of Christ on the cross."

    Cary's question is a good one: if you're saying that you are right because you have the proper faith to see it correctly, are you also implying that all non-Lutherans (and perhaps even all Lutherans who disagree with you personally) don't have a genuine faith? Or that their faith is deficient compared to yours?

    And if that's not what you're saying, what is the way we resolve this dispute?

    God bless,


    P.S. I understand that you feel quite strongly that you're right. Most Christians think you're wrong. What sort of objective standard are you basing your rightness off of, other than that it's how the Bible seems to you?

  50. Joe,

    We are saying that we are right because of the theology we are using to ascertain where the authority of Scripture lies.

    We believe that it is clear that God's Word (His law and gospel) bring people to a living faith in Himself).

    For us, that is authority enough.

    Maybe I am not explaining our position as well as my pastor does it. Here's his latest class on the subject from this past Sunday:

    Maybe this will help clear up what we believe, even if you do not agree with it.


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