Paul, Faith, Works, Obedience, Righteousness, and Matt1618 - Colossians

Paul, Faith, Works, Obedience,
Righteousness, and Salvation
Colossians, 1st & 2nd Thessalonians

By: Matt1618

I will examine some texts that speak of faith, works, obedience, and righteousness, and look at the 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.

Colossians 1:21-24
Colossians 2:11-16
Colossians 3:23-25
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
1 Thessalonians 5:23
2 Thessalonians 1:3-11
2 Thessalonians 2:13

Colossians 1:21-24

21 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

Paul writes in this passage what Christ does for believers. Apart from his grace we are estranged from him and do evil deeds (v. 21). Through his death we are now reconciled to him. In other words through him, the evil deeds we did, are a past tense since we are now reconciled. Doing evil deeds causes estrangement from him. (For the record, Paul himself does make a distinction between mortal and venial sins, See our study under 1 Corinthians 3:15:). Notice the continuation of this idea, through the next two verses. The purpose of our reconciliation with him is to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him before God. Paul then gives us a conditional verse that makes it possible for one to be made holy and blameless in his sight.

The Protestant side (Be it Calvinist, or even non-reformed Baptist), the grounds of righteousness that makes us blameless and irreproachable before God, is Christ's righteousness getting imputed to our account. If this was Paul's view, this is the exact time that he should write that Christ will presnt you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him if you have Christ's righteousness imputed to your account. Paul does not write this at all. Instead, Paul writes, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, 23 provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard,. Thus, Christ will present us as such only if we continue in the faith stable and steadfast. Those are Paul's words. The statement that Paul writes is that he can present us only so, if we continue. Thus, salvation is conditional. Then Paul writes another condition, that must be kep in order that one be presented holy and blameless, namely that "one not shift from the hope of the gospel which you heard." Thus, hope is foundational, and a means of justification. This reminds us of Paul's elsewhere writing of the necessity of 'hope' (Rom. 8:24, Rom. 5:1). The lack of hope in Christ that makes one fall into despair can cause us to separate from Christ's grace.

One may argue, well, your interpretation of Paul (actually which is not an interpretation so much but a plain reading of his words) makes Christ's grace insufficient. If you have to do anything, you 'are adding to the work of Christ'. Well, Paul wrote that we must continue in the faith, and not shift from the hope of his gospel, not me. One must then attack Paul as 'adding to the work of Christ.' This is clearly not the case.

Next, Paul writes (in v.24) that he rejoices in his own sufferings as it provides what Christ actually lack in Christ's sufferings. How can Christ's suffering not be enough? Obviously Christ's suffering was efficacious, but Paul shows that what he himself can do is of salvific value for the Colossian Church (especially as the context is in reference to salvation and how Christ can present believers to God as holy in his sight). Elsewhere, Paul had written that one can inherit heaven, provided we suffer (Rom. 8:17). However, here he even goes farther, showing the salvific efficacy of one suffering for another. This shows that what believers do for other believers can have salvific efficacy. Obviously, Paul's words refute the idea that Christ's suffering means that ourselves, or even others play no role in our salvation.

Colossians 2:11-16

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath.

Here Paul writes of the salvific efficacy of baptism. Although in this examination I am not specifically dealing with baptism (Hence my passing over commentary on Acts 22:16, Gal. 3:28, Eph. 4:4, 1 Cor. 12:13, etc.), I point to it only as what happens during the time of salvation. Baptism, which is the new cirumcision, makes us put off the body of flesh. Through baptism we are raised with Christ. The point is that Christ makes us alive not by covering us with Christ's imputed righteousness, but making us alive (not forensically which is imputation on a legal basis , and forgiving us our past trespasses (it is in the past tense where it says "having forgiven us all our trespasses"). Thus, in our justification, he makes us righteous by making us alive. He makes us alive not forensically, but actually.

Next, Paul writes that the legal bond is cancelled through Christ. This means that the old dietary laws and festivals and such are no longer binding. The legal demand of the old laws required 100% perfection in keeping all of them. This brings to mind Paul's condemnation of works of the law, and Paul's statement that those who try to gain salvation by law will be condemned, and Christ released us from the law and its rigid requirements, but did not do away with the law. See my extended treatment of Gal. 3 by clicking here. Nevertheless, Paul does not write that we must forget what he stated only a chapter earlier (and reaffirms a chapter later, see below), that we must "continue in the faith" in order to be justified before God.

Colossians 3:23-25

23 Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

This is another important passage which shows the necessity of grace empowered works for salvation. Paul tells us to work heartily in the Lord. Thus, this is God's grace at work. What is the end of working heartily, accoding to Paul? The Calvinist view is that works are indeed a necessary evidence of one being justified, but they never serve any sort of a basis for ones's justification. One inherits the kingdom of God by being imputed with Christ's righteousness, and one indeed is to work heartily, but the end of working heartily is not the inheritance, but the amount of rewards one receives in heaven. On the other hand, the Catholic views good works as meritorious, and in the Father-Son relationship that actually will reward one's obedience with heaven itself. Not in that the Father owes the son salvation, but because of the Father's promise to so reward him, and because he looks at his works through his eyes of grace. Paul directly ties one's inheritance to his obedience and working heartily. This direct correlation that Paul himself writes shows the salvific efficaciousness of working in God's grace achieves the inheritance itself.
Paul himself writing to the Corinthians and Ephesians, that those who commit mortal sins lose their inheritance and will not inherit the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:3-7, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Gal. 5:19-21). On the other hand, here in Colossians, he shows that the Father rewards his children with salvation itself with the son's obedience. The inheritance, Paul terms as a reward for this grace empowered works (v. 24).

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

2 We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice how Paul here commending the Thessalonians work of faith. When done in grace, faith is a work that God commends. To say that one is justified faith alone must take into consideration that the faith that Paul speaks of, is a work. Notice, that faith itself is a work. He mentions what he had written earlier about (1 Cor. 13:1-13, Rom. 5:1-5), that faith, hope, and love are intimately connected.

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you; 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

The Council of Trent says that Christ through the Holy Spirit causes us to increase in righteousness. Love is an important aspect of one's justification in the Catholic view. As we saw Paul earlier write, we must have faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6)in order to be justified. Here in 1 Thessalonians Paul gives us a purpose for God causing us to increase and abound in love: to establish our hearts as unblamable in holiness before our God and Father. If one's righteousness is accounted perfect, as per Christ's perfection in righteousness, it would be impossible to increase our love as Christ's love is perfect. If this love on our part is necessary to establish our hearts unblamable in holiness before God, then this is something we must strive for. Thus salvation is dependent upon our cooperation with God. It is his grace that is necesssary to make us establish our hearts in this way, according to Paul (v. 12). This is similar to what Paul

1 Thessalonians 5:23

23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul here mentions the need to be sanctified by God wholly and to be kept sound and blameless. For what purpose, to get more rewards in heaven? No the purpose is to be ready for Jesus Christ in his judgment. If one automatically appropriates Christ's imputed righteousness, and is the means of being judged right before God, then there is no need to be kept sound and blameless at Jesus' coming. Paul shows here that an inherent righteousness is necessary to face Christ. He is not merely expressing niceties. This reflects what Paul wrote in Phil. 2:12-16:
14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

In Paul's mind this pursuit of holiness is necessary to be judged right before God. It is not merely an effect, but a means. If one is not sanctified, or one becomes unsanctified, one's work will have become in vain (See also 1 Cor. 9:27).

2 Thessalonians 1:3-11

We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering-- 6 since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfil every good resolve and work of faith by his power,

In this passage we see several things that show the necessity of truth of the Catholic view of justification. 1) Increased righteousness and love. Paul is not merely commending their growth in love for one another. Yes he is doing that, no doubt. He does also show that this increased righteousness and love is put in the context of judgment before God. And the issue is not about “since you have done this, you are getting more rewards in heaven.” This increased righteousness and love is put in the immediate context of judgment for salvation or condemnation; 2) He puts it in the context of “being made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering (v. 5) ”. We must remember Paul in Romans 8:17 wrote that one will inherit the kingdom only if one suffers. Here, Paul reiterates that suffereing is not merely demonstrative, but efficacious before God; 3)The Calvinist/Protestant view is that one is declared worthy, on account of Christ’s righteousness getting imputed to one’s account. This view no doubt does reiterate that one will be made righteousness, and even increase in righteousness and love as a believer in Christ. However, this Protestant view does not see this as making one worthy before Christ. After all, if the sole basis in being judged right before God is Christ’s imputed righteousness that is the basis that one is righteous before God, not one’s own righteousness. Paul on the other hand says that this increased faith, love and even suffering, is in the context of being made worthy before God, is in the context of salvation and judgment. Specifically in this context Paul writes that those who are punished with damnation are those who not only do not know God, but those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 8). Thus, in order to be judged right before God, obedience is not merely an indirect effect, but a cause of it. Of course, our obedience must be looked at through God’s eyes of grace, but obedience does bring about our ultimate salvation.

2 Thessalonians 2:13

But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

In 2 Thessalonians 1, we saw that belief in the gospel of Christ and obedience was necessary to make one righteous, worthy before God. In 2 Thes. 2, we see another aspect thrown into the mix. Here, we see the means of salvation, according to Paul. First he shows God’s is the one who chose us for salvation. Next, he gives us the immediate means of salvation. He does not give us merely a byproduct of salvation. Paul writes that one is saved through sanctification This passage is an overlooked passage in many respects. However, the reason why I highlight this passage is because Paul shows us the means of salvation. Sanctification is actually shown to be the means of salvation, as it says salvation is done through sanctification. All will acknowledge that sanctification is an ongoing process, and that we must be prepared to do every good work. (Also see vv. 16-17, which says to equip us for every good work). However, many argue that sanctification is merely a byproduct of one’s salvation, never a means of salvation. As Paul shows that one is saved by sanctification in 2 Thes. 2:13, this shows that salvation is a process, not a one time event.

Paul here repudiates the Calvinist view on the Holy Spirit in reference to salvation. According to the Calvinist, the Holy Spirit does work but the holiness that he produces is not the means of justification. For example, when critiquing the Catholic view, James Buchanan writes:

“There is perhaps no more subtle or plausible error, on the subject of Justification, than that which makes it to rest on the indwelling presence, and the gracious work, of the Holy Spirit in the heart. It is a singularly refined form of opposition to the doctrine of Justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, for it merely substitutes the work of one divine Person for that of another; and it is plausible, because it seems to do homage to the doctrine of Grace, by ascribing the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit, the production of faith, and all the effects which are ascribed to it, whether these belong to our Justification or to our Sanctification,” (Buchanan. p. 387.)

Thus, we see that according to the Calvinist, it is an error to say that justification rests on the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Just proclaiming that grace (in reference to justification) includes the Holy Spirit sanctifying, is proclaimed to only be "seeming" to do homage to grace. However, Paul proclaims this to not only be seeming, but to actually make sanctification to be the grounds of one's justification. Paul specifically writes in this passage that the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification is the means of justification. Again, Paul writes: God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit. How is one saved according to Paul? Is the Holy Spirit's main purpose in reference to justification is to get one to believe and at that time bring an imputation of Christ's righteousness to one's account? No. He is saved through the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctification. Salvation = sanctification through the Holy Spirit. This is Catholic doctrine to a tee.

The Calvinist does not deny that the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer is necessary for salvation. Buchanan affirms that “No salvation takes place without the effectual work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables one to believe in his name”(Buchanan, p. 393) The question is, what does Paul write that the Holy Spirit does in reference to our justification and salvation? According to Buchanan, the Holy Spirit’s role in this matter “consist mainly in persuading men effectually to ‘receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation, as He is freely offered in the Gospel.’...’The Mediatorial work of Christ is thus clearly distinguished from the internal work of the Spirit. By the former (Jesus), all the blessings of salvation were procured; by the latter, all these blessings are effectually applied. The work of the Spirit is not the cause, but the consequent, for our redemption; and it forms no part of the ground, although it is the evidence, of our Justification. That blessing, like every other which is included in salvation, depends entirely on the sacerdotal work of Christ, by which He fulfilled the conditions of the Covenant. The Holy Spirit is His Agent in the exercise of these offices, and by His grace and power men are enabled and persuaded to rely on Him for salvation.’ (Buchanan, p. 396)

Is this limiting the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation to just persuading us to believe in Christ true? According to Paul, it is not. The Holy Spirit’s work is said to yes, cause us to believe in Jesus, but again, according to 2 Thes. 2:13, to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Very much implied, as written elsewhere by Paul, if one is to unsanctify oneself by grievous sins (1 Cor. 6:9-10, Eph. 5:5-6, Gal. 5:19-21) one cuts himself off from salvation. As the Catechism notes, “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism...” . (It then quotes Rom. 6:3-4 to show baptismal regeneration.) CCC 481. In other words the Holy Spirit’s sanctification of us is our means of justification. This is how the merits of Christ’s death on the cross is applied. The Holy Spirit cleanses us from our sins and saves us through sanctification by the Holy Spirit, exactly as Paul writes here in 2nd Thessalonians. Paul reflects Catholic teaching.

To go to the next letters of Paul on 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus on salvation, obedience, works, and righteousness click here

To go back to the index Page of Paul on salvation, obedience, works, and righteousness click here

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Last modified January 5, 2000.