Does the Protestant Gospel REALLY make sense?


#1

I think one of the biggest reasons why Protestants disagree with Catholics on the issue of justification is because Protestants misunderstand what Paul means when he says the Law does not save.
Three passages come to mind:Rom 3: 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Gal 2: 16know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Gal 2: 21I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!When Protestants read these passages they think it is saying we are NOT justified by the law because the law demands perfection and we cannot keep the law perfectly.
Now, look at how a popular Protestant Apologetics page defines justification:Justification is the work of God where the righteousness of Jesus is reckoned to the sinner so the sinner is declared by God as being righteous under the Law.
(Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry)
What this is saying is that since the law demands perfection, and we cannot keep it, Christ had to keep it for us so that we could be justified (considered to have kept the Law perfectly).

Protestants often point to Gal 2:21 (above) and say Catholics trying to be justified not by faith alone makes a mockery of Christ’s sacrifice and tramples upon Christ making Him no value.

BUT all of this is a misreading of what St Paul is saying.
WATCH CLOSELY, Paul is NOT saying justification is by faith because we cannot keep the law perfectly, he IS saying the law itself lacks the power to save, and that is why justification is apart from the law.

Gal 2: 21 is saying that IF the law could save then there really was no need for Christ, salvation would simply be based on those who followed the law. It is NOT saying: you can EITHER choose to try to be justified by keeping the law on your own OR trust that Christ kept it for you.

St Paul is saying simply that the Law does not save because it not only lacks the power to, it was NEVER INTENDED to save.

Imagine us sinners were represented by dead batteries, while the Mosaic Law represents a battery powered toy car. The toy car CANNOT give life to that battery, it cannot charge the battery, thus charging the battery must come APART FROM the toy car. The toy car LACKS the power to charge the battery, infact it was NEVER INTENDED to charge the battery.

Jesus is the battery charger, by His own power He can charge whatever batteries come to Him.

Now, as charged batteries we can make the toy car work the way God originally wanted to see the toy car in operation, in that sense we are called to and must fulfill the law.Rom 13: 8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
This was the reading everyone at Mass heard on Sunday for the Epistle Reading. Jesus gave us the power to love on the supernatural level, the love that pleases God, something we could not do when stripped of sanctifying grace because of Adam’s sin.

For those Protestants who are not convinced what I am saying is true, take one final passage, which I think lays out the problem very clearly:2 Cor 3: 3You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!
Justification was not, as Luther and Protestants mistakenly thought, a matter of being found righteous by the law. Instead, justification according to St Paul is a resurrection of our spiritually dead souls, given life not by the Law (which lacked the power to give life) but by the epitome of life itself: The Holy Ghost, indwelling.

THIS is the real dispute between Protestants and Catholics, it is NOT a matter of “faith” versus “faith plus works.” It is about what justification means IN LIGHT OF WHY the Law CANNOT save.


#2

I will be interested in following this thread CD. I have some questions:

If observance of the law does not save, why did Christ tell the rich young man and the lawyer that if they wished to “enter life” that they should “keep the commandments”?

Some non-C’s have argued that the “enter life” that Christ responds with is not a reference to eternal life. I dont buy it. The question is posed to Christ more than once: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And He answers with “keep the commandments” which he basically points out is love of God and love of neighbor as self. It could also be argued that, under the old Covenant, that complete observance of the law did, in fact, maintain fellowship with God but that the New Covenant is completely separate.

I tend to believe that IF we kept the law - loving God and loving neighbor as self - that we would remain in God’s fellowship. The problem is that we do not keep it and, of ourselves, cannot. Christ came to:
A) redeem us
B) provide access to the grace that allows us to actually fulfill the “law of love” (gifts of the Holy Spirit/Sacraments)
C) provide for forgiveness when we fail to do so.

It is all based upon His finished work on the Cross.

What say you?


#3

The context in which Jesus and Paul spoke was different. This issue with Paul is not about keeping the commandments (of course Paul believed we have to keeping commandments), but about how the relationship with God is established. Rom 2: 28A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
Circumcision is what enters one into the covenant, but what Paul reveals is that the circumcision God is looking for is an inner transformation. Only the Spirit can do this, the Mosaic Law itself is a “tablet of stone” which cannot empart spiritual life. ONCE properly in a relationship with God you can with this grace and now and are required to love God and neighbor. Stop loving God and neighbor and put your soul in jeopardy (Rom 2:5-8; Gal 6:7-9).

The Jews Paul was talking to were NOT trying to work their way into Heaven, as if Pelagians. Rather, they thought they could rely on their lineage being from Abraham that God would never abandon them, even if they turned to lives of sin:Lk 3: 7John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
But Paul’s main message is that the REAL covenant is a spiritual one, and Abraham’s real children are those who walk by faith:Rom 4: 9Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
Abraham lived BEFORE the mosaic law, where the moral commands/principals always existed, and the fact he was saved proves entering into the saving relationship literally comes apart from the law. Abraham is important in that he was privileged to have the Messiah come from his lineage. So does that mean the law is bad?Gal 3: 15Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise. 19What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. 20A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.
21Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
The Mosaic Law was a road map pointing to the coming of Jesus (who would prove Himself by being the fulfillment of that law). It was so we would know where to look. In the meantime the Mosaic Law kept man in check (“don’t do this, do that”) so that they would be a living testimony of God’s chosen people. The law was to get them thinking differently, and those who internalized these teachings (by grace) were the ones fulfilling the law as God intended it (Love) and were the ones who welcomed Christ when they saw Him.

It could also be argued that, under the old Covenant, that complete observance of the law did, in fact, maintain fellowship with God but that the New Covenant is completely separate.

The main problem when Protestants say that is they forget the complete observance of the Mosaic Law was impossible for us, NOT because it was too hard, but because it was not foreshadowing us specifically. The Passover Lamb, for example, is a foreshadowing of Jesus, ONLY Jesus fulfills that figure, and that is what the Law was supposed to do.
Given all this, we are also called to follow Christ’s lead.

I tend to believe that IF we kept the law - loving God and loving neighbor as self - that we would remain in God’s fellowship. The problem is that we do not keep it and, of ourselves, cannot. Christ came to:
A) redeem us
B) provide access to the grace that allows us to actually fulfill the “law of love” (gifts of the Holy Spirit/Sacraments)
C) provide for forgiveness when we fail to do so.

It is all based upon His finished work on the Cross.

What say you?

I say you nailed this last paragraph. What needs to be distinguished are TWO systems here. The timeless, eternal system of Relationship with God from Adam until the Second Coming, and the SECOND TEMPORARY system of the Mosaic Law from Moses to Jesus. When Jesus or Paul ever say we must keep the commandments they are talking about the timeless system of Relationship.

I hope this wasn’t too confusing, it is hard to cram these types of topics into one post.


#4

This is a very insightful argument, but it founders on the point Philthy raised.

Can the Law save, as some readings of Christ’s response to the rich man implies, or is the Law incapable of salvation, as St Paul says?

I do not believe St Paul could be at odds with Christ, at least in the epistles which were made canon, so the problem lies in reconciling the two through context.

The crux of the matter is what happened to people under the Law who broke the Commandments. Time and again we see the answer in the Old Testament—death.

And yet some managed to keep them. We see two of them at the Transfiguration—Moses and Elijah.

Jesus descended to the dead to return these to life.

David broke the commandments regarding adultery and murder, and yet managed such contrition as to be restored.

I wonder if the issue here isn’t that the Old Law proved to damn more than it saved due to our concupiscence and lack of sacramental avenues to repent and reconcile ourselves with God. Christ established these sacraments for us, thus allowing us when fallen away with sin to return to the fold.

Perhaps that is the way to square this circle. “Keep the Commandments, but it will be incredibly difficult to do so until you may avail yourself of the sacraments to come, and far more likely that the Law will damn you should you not.”


#5

Your view of Protestant thinking is incorrect. You state our spiritually dead souls are resurrected and given life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Protestants do not deny that this takes place but rather call it regeneration or being born again.

While I am not a Calvinist, I will quote from Calvin as his works are readily available on the net.

But seeing that all the desires of the flesh are enmity against God, the first step to the obedience of his law is the renouncement of our own nature. Renovation is afterwards manifested by the fruits produced by it—viz. justice, judgment, and mercy. ]Since it were not sufficient duly to perform such acts, were not the mind and heart previously endued with sentiments of justice, judgment, and mercy this is done when the Holy Spirit, instilling his holiness into our souls, so inspired them with new thoughts and affections, that they may justly be regarded as new.

Both of these we obtain by union with Christ. For if we have true fellowship in his death, our old man is crucified by his power, and the body of sin becomes dead, so that the corruption of our original nature is never again in full vigor . If we are partakers in his resurrection, we are raised up by means of it to newness of life, which conforms us to the righteousness of God. In one word, then, by repentance I understand regeneration, the only aim of which is to form in us anew the image of God, which was sullied, and all but effaced by the transgression of Adam.

By regeneration the children of God are delivered from the bondage of sin, but not as if they had already obtained full possession of freedom, and no longer felt any annoyance from the flesh.

In regenerating his people God indeed accomplishes this much for them; he destroys the dominion of sin, by supplying the agency of the Spirit, which enables them to come off victorious from the contest.

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 3.

So clearly Calvin believes that what you label justification does indeed take place.

However Calvin goes on to show that while are made capable of striving to be righteous, we are not actually righteous in God’s terms.

All writers of sound judgment agree in this, that, in the regenerate man, there is still a spring of evil which is perpetually sending forth desires that allure and stimulate him to sin. They also acknowledge that the saints are still so liable to the disease of concupiscence, that, though opposing it, they cannot avoid being ever and anon prompted and incited to lust, avarice, ambition, or other vices.

We admit that these remains, just as if they had no existence, are not imputed, but we, at the same time, contend that it is owing to the mercy of God that the saints are not charged with the guilt which would otherwise make them sinners before God.

Again, the law furnishes us with a clear demonstration by which the whole question may be quickly disposed of. We are enjoined to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength. Since all the faculties of our soul ought thus to be engrossed with the love of God, it is certain that the commandment is not fulfilled by those who receive the smallest desire into their heart, or admit into their minds any thought whatever which may lead them away from the love of God to vanity. What then? Is it not through the faculties of mind that we are assailed with sudden motions, that we perceive sensual, or form conceptions of mental objects? Since these faculties give admission to vain and wicked thoughts, do they not show that to that extent they are devoid of the love of God? He, then, who admits not that all the desires of the flesh are sins, and that that disease of concupiscence, which they call a stimulus, is a fountain of sin, must of necessity deny that the transgression of the law is sin.

He then proceeds to quote from Augustine.

We will produce some other passages to make it more apparent what his sentiments were. In his second book against Julian, he says, “This law of sin is both remitted in spiritual regeneration and remains in the mortal flesh; remitted, because the guilt is forgiven in the sacrament by which believers are regenerated, and yet remains, inasmuch as it produces desires against which believers fight.” Again, “Therefore the law of sin (which was in the members of this great Apostle also) is forgiven in baptism, not ended.” Again, “The law of sin, the guilt of which, though remaining, is forgiven in baptism, Ambrose called iniquity, for it is iniquitous for the flesh to lust against the Spirit.” Again, “Sin is dead in the guilt by which it bound us; and until it is cured by the perfection of burial, though dead it rebels.”

Hence although we are renewed, we cannot be said to be truly righteous, since even a wrong thought means our entire mind, strength and soul is not directed to the love God and neighbour, which Jesus is the Law and the prophets. James tells us if we are guilty of one violation we are guilty of all.


#6

The “law of Christ” mentioned by Paul and referred to by James as the “royal law” is not a laundry list like that of the OT laws.

Instead, it is the spirit of the law as opposed to the letter of the law[2 Cor 3:3]. Perfection in the letter of the law is not part of the New Covenant. We are in relationship with God as his children. We are members of the household. We are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. We love God above all things and we love our neighbor as ourselves.

We are washed, sanctified, and justified when we come into relationship with God through Christ 1 Cor 6:11]. We continue up and down after this, but are eventually fully sanctified and conformed to the image of Jesus Christ the son of God[Rom 8:29].

All is by grace and we will be perfected.[1 Jn 2:4-5, 1 Jn 4:12, 1 Peter 1:1].


#7

I’m not sure what you mean.

Can the Law save, as some readings of Christ’s response to the rich man implies, or is the Law incapable of salvation, as St Paul says?

Christ was not saying the Law as a complete system saved, He pointed out a few teachings which were in fact universal moral principals. Notice Jesus did not quote the whole 10 commandments with teachings like “keep the Sabbath day holy” and such. These universal and eternal moral precepts are what Paul and James call the “law of Christ.”

I do not believe St Paul could be at odds with Christ, at least in the epistles which were made canon, so the problem lies in reconciling the two through context.

Amen.

The crux of the matter is what happened to people under the Law who broke the Commandments. Time and again we see the answer in the Old Testament—death.

People in the OT broke commandments all the time and didn’t die. People like David broke major commandments and repented:
Ps 51: 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Notice what David did here, he recognized the essence of loving God, and that is inner transformation. The Law was pointing to something greater that just regulations on a page, and some people GOT THAT. Sacrifices were not bad or worthless, in fact they did please God. What David is saying is that a sacrifice without changing your attitude is smoke in God’s nostrils rather than an aroma.

And yet some managed to keep them. We see two of them at the Transfiguration—Moses and Elijah.

Moses was as good a saint as one could be, but towards the end of his leadership he sinned and offended God and God told Moses he would not be able to enter the promised land as a result.

Jesus descended to the dead to return these to life.

Amen.

David broke the commandments regarding adultery and murder, and yet managed such contrition as to be restored.

True, and I believe others did as well.

I wonder if the issue here isn’t that the Old Law proved to damn more than it saved due to our concupiscence and lack of sacramental avenues to repent and reconcile ourselves with God. Christ established these sacraments for us, thus allowing us when fallen away with sin to return to the fold.

In the OT you could repent and be reconciled, that was a major theme of the OT Prophets: Repent O Israel! I wouldn’t say it proved to “damn more” but with the aid of the sacraments it is a lot easier.

Perhaps that is the way to square this circle. “Keep the Commandments, but it will be incredibly difficult to do so until you may avail yourself of the sacraments to come, and far more likely that the Law will damn you should you not.”

I think that is too broad of a brush. The Law was never about God waiting for someone to slip so He could punish them, the Law was to get people thinking differently, different than the pagan nations around them.


#8

We have been over this before. It is the Protestant side that cannot explain how “regeneration” can cause a genuine change in the individual and yet have to turn to an imputed alien righteousness because there is nothing good inside man.
The fact remains, for the Reformers (and all those who genuinely strive to adhere to their teachings), that Sola Fide was about Jesus keeping the Law perfectly in your place so you wouldn’t have to and imputing that righteous status to the sinner.


#9

Yep! :thumbsup:


#10

IMO … I think Protestants tend to take the ‘long view’ on the issue of justification. They correctly grasp that our initial Rebirth’s in Christ are by faith alone. However, many feel that Christ has forgiven them of all Future sins as well. Thus, they don’t see the scriptural imperative that a Christian needs ongoing graces/justification to maintain our spiritual health.

Now, they do believe that fruitful works are good and necessary of a Christian. They just think Christ’s Work for them [justification] was Complete on Day 1 of their salvation. So, when they hear a Christian Catholic talking James on ‘necessary works’ to prove our Faith … it smacks of Pharisetical legalism to their mind.

Christianity for many Protestants is a ONE Step salvation/justification event. Christ did All the Work [at Cross] for them on Day 1. All the works they do thereafter [and they do many] … are inspired of God, The Work of God in them … never their Work to earn anything of God [except heavenly rewards Paul & Christ talk of ].

They term their good deeds --‘Christian service’ … and never Christian Works. Its really all the same thing … but as we know some words have different connotations for a Catholic and Protestant.

They are accomplishing Step 2, thru their Christian service … but, they don’t term it secondary justifications.

Now if Pax could just prove to them that Abram was justified 3 times …:smiley: the heresy of M. Luther might be history.


#11

Yes, they were not at odds.

Christ healed sinners first w/o any evidence that they had kept the law. Indeed we know they had not. After telling them their sins were forgiven — only then did he say, “go and sin no more”.

Christ first and foremost looked to see who had Faith in his power to heal them. On that basis alone they could be healed both physical and spiritually. Yet, always it appears Christ is telling them and us … after I heal you by your faith ‘alone’ … now you can/must keep the Law [of love], by my H.S. power within you.

It was never Christ’s intent to clean us up of sins … only to watch us return to our former ways.


#12

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