Paul, Faith, Works, Obedience, Righteousness, and Matt1618 - 2nd Corinthians

Paul, Faith, Works, Obedience,
Righteousness, and Salvation
2 Corinthians
By: Matt1618

I will examine some texts that speak of faith, works, obedience, and righteousness, and look at their salvific repercussions. I do not intend to examine all the texts that speak on these issues, but enough important texts to look at the implications.

2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 3:3-6
2 Corinthians 3:18
2 Corinthians 5:9-11
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
2 Corinthians 5:21-6:2
2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1
2 Corinthians 9:8-10
2 Corinthians 13:5-7

2 Corinthians 3:3-6

3 and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficiency to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.

This highlights the fact that the great covenant that we enter with God is so much better than the one that God established with Moses. Our relations and justification before God is not based on a written law, but on the covenant. If one goes by the written law, which is the old covenant, we will die. In fact, when the covenant given by God to Moses came, it brought death. As Moses was with God and the law was given to him, Aaron gave in to the idolatrous Israelites, who worshipped the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-14). Here, he brought the written code of the tablets (Ex. 32:15-16). The Levites were here ordained as ministers of the covenant, when they slew 3000 idolaters, as at Moses prompting, they ordered their death (Ex. 32:25-29). This written code included the ten commandments. The law reveals sin. The strict judgment of God brings upon their condemnation. The law, in and of itself produces death. For a detailed study on how the law does not produce salvation, but grace empowered obedience is still necessary, please see: Galatians 3:10-14, Faith, Works, and Works of the Law.

This passage shows that our justification before God here is based on our approach. Our approach towards God is a manner of life or death. If we approach him through our heart, (v. 3) with a love toward God (as evidenced by Moses, who loved God with his heart, soul, and mind), and appropriate his grace, we can be saved. If we approach him through a mere written code, we get death (v. 6). We must rely upon God for all our sufficiency. Nothing from our own power gives us life. Our sufficiency only comes from God, who empowers us. This maked us recall Paul’s mention in Philippians of working out our salvation with fear and trembling because it is God working through us for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

Verse 6 gives us an important detail. Paul writes that the Spirit gives us life. The Spirit is thus heavily involved with our salvation. The law, as given, included the ten commandments. The commandments (apart from God's grace)produce our damnation. Without the Spirit, we are condemned. However, within grace, we have life. The Spirit liberates us from the law of sin. We see this also in Roman 8:2-4, which says that through the law of the Spirit, we meet the righteous requirement of the law by walking in the Spirit. In fact further on in 2 Cor. 3, Paul speaks of us having a much “greater dispensation of righteousness”. Later on, as we see below in 2 Cor. 3:18, we see greater degrees of glory that speaks of Christ transforming us. No hint here or anywhere else that the righteousness spoken of is Christ’s getting imputed to our account, but the context is of Christ making us righteous (see also Rom. 5:19). Especially since we see the point in the next verses (see below, esp. v. 18), where the Spirit gives life, it is eternal life in the context of transformation of the being, as a part of the grounds of our salvation. It is not merely a part of the Spirit making us recognize who Jesus is (although of course this must be done), but this transformation gives us life, as Paul’s specifically states here, far beyond anything given by the law. This transformation is thus grounds of our justification.

Why is this relevant to the issue? The Council of Trent says, “by justification itself, which is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend. Catholicism teaches that the renewal, is part of what justification is. Not merely consequent to justification. On the other hand, the Protestant/Calvinist view makes the Spirit’s only role to point us to Christ in relation to our justification. They will not deny, and even affirm the necessity of one becoming holy, and the Holy Spirit's role in that area, but they will deny that this is part of any of the grounds of justification. In fact, James Buchanan writes, “The work of the Spirit iis not the cause, but the consequent, of our redemption; and it forms no part of the ground, although it is the evidence, of our Justification....”, Buchanan, p. 395. He makes the point that though he does not deny the role of the Holy Spirit in renewing, his role in justification is only to point us to Christ. As Buchanan writes, “But the work of the Spirit was to be entirely distinct from that of the Son, and was neither designed to supersede, or to supplement it, for its own special and peculiar ends; on the contrary, it was to consist mainly in persuading men effectually to receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation, as He freely offered in the Gospel’ What Buchanan says that the Holy Spirit does is true. However, that is not the extent of the Holy Spirit’s role in justification. According to Paul in 2 Cor. 3 , the Spirit gives life. He does not merely point to Christ, he gives us life, which is transformation, which is salvation. In effect, the Calvinist view belittles, and downplays the role of the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Paul elaborates on the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant. Paul shows us that here, we actually behold God's glory. A part of this greater covenant is that we are being changed into his likeness. This is infusion of grace, and an increase in grace, according to Paul. This transformation is an ongoing change. The Holy Spirit not only transforms us into his likeness, but increases the grace in us from degree of glory to another. These degrees increase. This perfectly fits the Council of Trent's teaching that there is an increase of righteousness. If one's righteousness that justifies is an appropriation of Christ's righteousness alone (The Sola Fide), then there could never be any increase of degrees of glory. This verse thus is rendered nonsensical to the Sola Fide Calvinist, as Christ’s righteousness is perfect and can never be increased. There could be no ‘degrees’ of glory for the believer (for the Calvinist) while sojourning on this earth, because you can not add to Christ’s perfection. However, if one can increase or decrease in righteousness, as the Council of Trent declares, then this verse makes perfect sense. This is in the present tense, so is thus referring to the status and righteousness of the believer before God right now. It is not speaking about more crowns being given in the future judgment according to their work. Instead, Paul speaks of one's present status of righteousness in relation to being conformed into his image.

2 Corinthians 5:9-11

9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

Paul gives us several things to ponder in this passage. Paul says “Our aim is to please him.” We have a relationship with God such that our primary motive is to please him. We have a real possibility of displeasing God with our actions. As Paul relates in Heb. 11:6, without faith it is impossible to please God. Just as shortly after this statement of the necessity of pleasing God where Paul relates in Heb. 11:8 of Abraham’s obedience, he notes here in 2nd Corinthians that the obedience and displeasing/pleasing of God is essential to our eternal condition. Whether we please or displease God by our actions determines whether we will be condemned to hell or rewarded with heaven. The very real possibility of disobedience displeasing God to such an extent as damnation has been emphasized by Paul in other passages (such as Rom. Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 5:6, 1 Cor. 6:9-11). In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul spoke of the Israelites and their wandering from God, he noted that most were struck down because they displeased God (v. 5). They became idolaters and were sexually immoral. It is right after this mention that Paul wrote, take heed lest you fall, 1 Cor. 10:12. Thus, the background to Paul’s use of the word ‘displeasing’ or ‘pleasing’ elsewhere, shows that displeasing or pleasing God can determine our eternal destiny.

Paul writes in v. 10 that everything that we do will be judged by God, whether it be good or evil. Thus, if we do evil, for example, we will be judged for our actions. This concept destroys the Calvinist idea that Christians will not be judged for sins performed. Supposedly, since God looks only at Christ’s imputed righteousness, and never looks at our own actions that are evil, then we can never be judged for our sins. In fact, when looking at these passages Sola Fide advocates will relegate passages on God’s judgment of works to merely how many rewards we get in heaven. Norm Geisler, for example when speaking of God’s judgment in this passage writes, “These works, however, have nothing to do with whether we will be in heaven, but only with the status we will have there. As Jesus said, some of the saved will reign over ten cities and others over five (Luke 19:17-19), but all believers will be in his kingdom. The reward for works verses all speaks of rewards for those who will be in the kingdom, not whether one will be in the kingdom. However, let us relook at Paul’s words in v. 10. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. “ Notice that whatever we did, we will receive judgment that is evil if we did bad deeds in the body. If this is merely a judgment for believers and the amount of rewards we get in heaven, there is a problem with this passage: If we did bad deeds (which are sins) but they get ignored because of Christ’s imputed righteousness laid to our account, how can we ‘receive evil according to what he as done in the body'? Bad deeds are sins, and thus, Paul specifically shows that sins even of believers will be judged. Thus, if we sin and do not repent of sins that lead to death (1 Jn 5:17, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 5:3-5) we can cut ourselves off from God. However, if we are in his grace and do good deeds, we will be rewarded. Yes, if we are in his grace and do well, God will give extra rewards in heaven. However, Paul is not limiting himself to speaking of God only giving extra rewards in heaven. The actions that we do here, even after in a state of grace, help to determine our final destiny.

Paul, closing in v. 11 writes, that due to our awareness of God’s judgment:knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God.” This is interesting that right after Paul writes that our good or bad deeds are to be judged for, it is exactly right here that Paul says that we know the fear of the Lord. Well, if we are guaranteed heaven because of Christ’s imputed righteousness, why does Paul specifically write here of the fear of the Lord? This would be the place to speak of joy of receiving extra rewards, because after all, we are guaranteed heaven. Instead, Paul gives us the point of judgment as a point of fearing the Lord, because we must not want to mortally offend God by unfaithful actions. This reiterates even further that the judgment of v. 10 is speaking of our actions having eternal consequences. We must be faithful, and have a healthy fear of God, as God will reward us, if we are faithful to him. This also reminds us of Paul’s earlier letter to the same Corinthian Church, where he distinguishes the three types of works: one, which sends one directly to heaven (1 Cor. 3:13), one which sends one to suffer loss before getting to heaven (v. 15), and implies purgatory, or the third, where the person’s temple is destroyed (and the person sent to hell), v. 17).

2 Corinthians 5:17-20

17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Paul gives us here the grounds and means of being reconciled with God. First, we are not merely cloaked, covered with Christ’s righteousness being imputed to our account. Sola Fideists will say, yes, those who are in Christ are new creations indeed, but one’s salvation is not dependent upon Christ’s righteousness being infused to the account. In fact, as noted before, James Buchanan, a Calvinist apologist writes that the best of man’s works, “are invariably soiled and contaminated by some ‘spots of the flesh,’ and defiled by the constant presence, and frequent pollutions, of indwelling sin.” (Buchanan, p. 359). Thus, even good works done are defiled by the pollution. In effect, one is not really a new creation. However, Paul calls new believers, ontologically new creations. This is not to say that believers are not tempted to do evil, and even sometimes do evil. However, as Paul writes elsewhere, we really can crucify the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13, Gal. 5:16, 24). Those who are in Christ are not merely covered up with Christ’s righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness makes one really new creations. (Also, see Rom. 5:19). God’s righteousness is thus infused to the person. Paul also speaks in v. 18 (of 2nd Cor. 5) being a minister of reconciliation. Thus, he alludes to the sacrament of reconciliation (or penance) (v. 18) that Jesus established in the gospel (John 20:22-23). Through this ministry that Paul speaks of, people are forgiven their sins (v. 19).

Paul in v. 20, writes of the ongoing necessity of being reconciled to God. Thus, there is by no means a merely one time reconciliation with God, and you are set for life, (if you are truly saved), as Sola Fide advocates preach. After mentioning how people are reconciled to God by being new creations, Paul specifically writes to believers who are Christians “be reconciled to God.” This plea that Paul makes has no sense if justification is merely a one time event. Paul should write, “you are already reconciled to God, and your future sins are already forgiven, just do good to increase your sanctification, and more rewards in heaven.” Instead he tells Corinthian believers that though they have been reconciled in the past, they also need to be reconciled with God on an ongoing basis. Being reconciled with God, at least according to the Apostle Paul, is an ongoing process.

2 Corinthians 5:21-6:2

21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 6 - 1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation." Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

This is a continuation of Paul’s prior plea for the Corinthian believers (vv. 17-20) to be reconciled with God. Some Calvinists take verse 21 to mean that it shows our justification to get Christ’s righteousness. For example, James White, in his book “Roman Catholic Controversy’ writes the following: “The righteousness of Christ is the actual and real possession of the believer. This is the righteousness a Christian pleads before the judgment throne of God. Christ is our Substitute. Our sins are imputed to him; His righteousness is imputed to us... by God’s grace Christ’s righteousness becomes ours, and we have eternal life because of Christ’s righteousness, not because of our own.” He then claims that there are tons of verses that prove this, and supposedly 2 Cor. 5:21 is the perfect proof for this. Of course, White neither quotes the verses before or after this verse, which shows Paul writing of the necessity of constantly being reconciled with God, or the following verses which speak of the possibility of receiving the grace of God in vain. If one is forensically imputed with Christ’s righteousness, it would be impossible to receive God’s grace in vain. On the contrary, nowhere in the text is the word impute even used. First, it not say that our sins are imputed to Christ. Second, there is no hint in this passage that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to our account.

What does v. 21 actually teach on the matter? It does not say that Christ became imputed with sin. He became a sin offering. As Robert Sungenis notes, there are parallels which notes that this is a sin offering. For example, Paul calls Christ elsewhere a sin offering (Eph. 5:2, Heb. 7:27), a propitiation (Rom. 3:25), and a sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7, Heb. 9:28). (Sungenis, pp. 104-106). Paul writes in Rom. 8:3-4 that God sent “His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man. in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Paul wrote earlier in the context of Christ being a sin offering that we meet the righteous requirement of the law by us walking according to the Spirit. Something we do. Not something Christ does by imputing his righteousness. He puts his righteousness into our life. That is exactly what Paul is speaking of also in 2 Cor. 5:21. White’s interpretation contradicts Paul’s earlier understanding of Rom. 8:2-4 on the same subject.

Another very relevant point is if even if we granted that the first clause of v. 21 “Christ became sin for us” is to be interpreted (as White does) as Christ actually becoming imputed with our sin, it does not necessarily follow that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account for our justification. In fact, the surrounding context belies that interpretation. The second clause of the verse (that has to do with righteousness) is so that “we might become the righteousness of God.” Again, Paul writes that Christ did this so that we might become the righteousness of God. The word might become is very important, as it says that it is a possibility, not a guarantee. If one was automatically guaranteed an imputed righteousness as the grounds of our justification , there would be no might or maybe. However, the inspired writer Paul writes that one might become the righteousness. Thus, it is conditional upon our continuing reconciliation with God. (vv. 18-20). In fact, this whole section of 2 Cor. 5 & 6 shows that there are impediments that believers might allow to happen that will in fact interrupt our relationship with God.

How might we become the righteousness of God? (Infused, not imputed)? Paul answers in the very following verses by writing that (6:1) “Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain”. Thus, to maintain this righteousness we must work together with God. And we must do this or else we can actually accept his grace in vain. Again, grace not only does not exclude, but actually demands that we work together with him, in order for this not to be in vain. Salvation is a ‘now’ (6:2), not a past time event. The whole section (2 Cor. 5:17-6:2) shows not that salvation is not merely a punctiliar event, but a process, where Christ makes us righteous, and we must cooperate with God for our salvation.

St. Augustine gives a good summary of the section including 2 Cor. 5:21 when he writes: -"That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. This is not the righteousness whereby God is himself righteous, but that whereby we are made righteous by him" (Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, ch. 31, Schaff, NPNF, First Series, Vol. 5, p. 97).

2 Corinthians 6:16-7:17:1

16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." 2 Corinthians 7 1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.

The context of the passage includes believers not being yoked to unbelievers. Here Paul gives us salvific implications. First, he reiterates that we are temples of God. In his earlier letter to the Corinthians, he had spelled out that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). Paul had written in his earlier letter, that if we destroy by sinning mortally against our temple, God will destroy us (1 Cor. 3:17). In the same first letter, he gave examples of sins that will destroy the temple and cause our disinheritance (1 Cor. 6:9-10). See his following example of fornication, and immoral sexual acts as sins against the temple (1 Cor. 6:15-18). Thus, with that in the background of his thinking of what we are as temples, he warns us here in 2 Cor. 6, of the dangers of getting yoked with somebody who might cause us to get entangled again in such sins.

We are different from the unbeliever, not in that we have an imputed righteousness, but that we are ontologically clean, and we must stay with God and be faithful to him to stay unclean. We are to ‘touch nothing unclean’, per v. 17. What is the purpose of touching nothing unclean, to Paul? Because then I will welcome you . Of course he is writing of believers being contrasted to unbelievers. Thus, believers are already within God’s grace. Nonetheless, our being clean is a requirement of God welcoming us, as Paul writes, ‘then I will welcome you.’ In order to be his son or daughter we must not be defiled by sin. In other words it is possible that we will be overcome by sin, and believers, in order to remain God’s children, must be clean. He says that we will be his son provided we stay clean. . This is similar to Paul’s earlier promise that we will be heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him (Rom. 8:17). There are some sins that will cause us to be disinherited (Gal. 5:19-21, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Eph. 5:3-7). On the other hand, if we commit smaller sins, we merely get disciplined, in order to share in his holiness (Heb. 12:5-12, esp. v. 11, 1 Cor. 3:15). Now, as Paul stated earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:13-17), there are varying degrees of sins that would cut off our relationship with God. There are thus also various degrees of uncleanness in Paul’s mind when he writes this.

Then, continuing the same thought, Paul writes that with these promises in mind, “ let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit. Paul writes that it is very possible to cleanse ourself from every defilement of body and spirit. If we are so polluted that even a regenerated person’s actions are polluted, as testified by Buchanan, Paul could not make this plea. Note also, that when he is speaking, he speaks of us cleansing ourself. Thus, cleansing ourself is intimately connected to this promise of salvation, and having Father as God. Thus, when the apostle John writes that through Christ’s blood we are cleansed from sin (1 Jn 1:9), being in agreement with Paul, it is not opposed to us cleansing ourself from sin. Paul conditions our promises of God to cleansing ourselves from sin, in 7:1. What are the promises that he makes us endeavor to cleanse ourself from sin and seek perfection in holiness? The immediate promise in context is that God will be a Father to us, and we his sons and daughters, if we separate ourselves from the unclean things of the world. This is thus a conditional promise. Of course, we are still to interact with unbelievers, but not get attached to things that can defile us. Earlier promises include us working with God as colaborers, so as not to receive God’s grace in vain (2 Cor. 5:21-6:2), as now is the day of salvation. Paul had written that we are to continuously seek God’s grace, and if we depart from him, to seek reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-19). Paul had earlier promised that God would judge all our deeds (2 Cor. 5:9-11).

2 Corinthians 9:8-10

8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

The context here is of God providing blessing in abundance. Paul commends people to give to the Church to help people in need. Verse 8 shows Paul’s understanding of God enabling believers to do every good work. God’s grace is thus an active ingredient. Notice particularly v. 10 where Paul writes that God increases the harvest of our righteousness. Well, if our righteousness is imputed and accounted of Christ’s perfect righteousness, how could it ever be increased? That is the dilemma for those who follow the imputed righteousness idea of the Calvinists. In fact, when Paul speaks of righteousness, he speaks of our own actual righteousness that God can actually increase. Thus, if we can grow in righteousness, it is impossible for it to be Christ’s imputed righteousness that Paul can write of. It is our actual righteousness increasing, exactly as the Council of Trent writes. God is the supplier of this righteousness, but it can only grow, if this righteousness is infused into us. Our righteousness can increase, not by ourselves, but by our cooperation with God’s grace.

2 Corinthians 13:5-7 (KJV)

5 Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? 6 But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates. 7 Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.

Paul here writes for believers to examine themselves. A true examination of ourselves can thus have life or death repercussions. Paul’s readers in Corinth must make sure they are in the faith. Otherwise they may be reprobate. He is writing this to believers, not unbelievers, and posits the very real possibility that they render themselves outside the faith by their actions. The passages where the word reprobate (or castaway), adokimos, are used (Rom. 1:28, Tit. 1:16, 2 Tim. 3:8, Heb. 6:8) speak of people who are outside the faith. An examination of that word which shows the meaning of adokimos is included at the following url:
Two Biblical Passages that disprove Eternal Security. Thus, according to Paul, it is possible for a believer by his actions to place himself outside the faith, and thus, outside Christ and salvation.

To go to an examination of Paul's letters to the Ephesians, and Philippians click here.

To go to the index page of Paul's examination of works, righteousness, obedience and salvation, click here.

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