Paul, Faith, Works, Obedience, Righteousness, and Matt1618 - Ephesians-Phillippians

Paul, Faith, Works, Obedience,
Righteousness, and Salvation
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.

Ephesians 2:1-10
Ephesians 5:1-10
Phillippians 2:12-16
Phillippians 3:8-14

Ephesians 2:1-10

1 And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-- 9 not because of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This section is part of a passage which is often used by Protestants to show salvation is accomplished by faith alone. Oftentimes verses 8 and 9 are cited, and v. 10 is either ignored or slighted. Those who believe in Sola Fide and do not ignore v. 10, say that v. 10 merely shows the fruit of one who is justified. Now this passage, no doubt does show that our salvation is exclusively, and merely Godís grace. This is something that Catholicism teaches. However, I give the whole backdrop of this passage, in order to see what Paul is pointing to when he says that we are saved by grace alone. This background is important in our analysis of this section of Paulís letter.

In order to see what grace does in verses 8 through 10, we must see what the problem is that he says grace solves. Paul spells out the problem in the first seven verses. The very first verse of Ephesians 2 shows that apart from Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sin. Apart from Christ, we walk as sons of disobedience. Outside of grace, we are sons of disobedience who are engulfed in sin and are called children of wrath (v. 3). If one remains in that state, one is on the course to hell. Thus, he lays down a foundation similar to what Jesus said in John 8:32-38, and as Paul himself wrote in Rom. 6:16 that ďsin leads to death, and obedience leads to righteousness.Ē By implications now, (he becomes more explicit later) Paul writes that in contrast to the sons of disobedience and wrath the sons of God are those who walk in obedience. Earlier in Ephesians, he had called those predestined to be sons who walk in holiness (Eph 1:4-5). The disobedience that the unregenerate live, leads to being under the wrath of God, and those outside his grace walk according to the flesh, and its lusts (v. 4). Outside of Godís grace, we deserve hell.

Next, Paul tells us how Godís mercy is given. As we examine the next two verses (vv. 4-5), we must remember that the Protestant views grace as divine favor, while the Catholic views grace as both divine favor and divine power. Now in v. 4 Paul indicates that Godís great mercy comes to us and he bestows his love on us. Now for a Protestant Sola Fide proponent, this is the perfect place to give the solution to this problem as God imputing Christís righteousness to our account. As James White indicates ďChrist is our Substitute. Our sins are imputed to Him; His righteousness is imputed to Godís grace Christís righteousness becomes ours, and we have eternal life because of Christís righteousness, not because of our own.Ē James White, Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 152. Paul indeed shows us that grace is the solution to the problem of us being dead in sins. To undo the situation of our path to damnation through sin, Paul mentions that by grace we are saved in v. 5. Nevertheless, in v. 5, he makes absolutely no mention of a forensic, legal, justification via imputation, as White suggests. Instead, he mentions that he makes us alive together with Christ. Paulís definition of grace is thus not something passive, or merely divine favor, but active. Just as in Romans 5:19, Paulís definition of justification is not God merely declaring us righteousness through an imputation of Christís righteousness, but Christ making us righteousness, so here in Eph. 2:5 Paulís declaration of grace is not how we are declared alive, but how we are ontologically made alive. Thus, Paulís definition of grace up to this point, in v. 5, is that it is transformative. He really makes our Spirit alive. This is not an after effect, but the means of our justification. Under grace, we are no longer sons of disobedience bound for wrath. This is the Catholic view.

In vv. 6 and 7 Paul shows that we are raised up with him. In him, we have an immeasurable amount of grace, and we are made to reign with him. With this in the background, with the knowledge that grace, as shown by Paul is a transformation out of bondage to sin, as elaborated by Paul in Eph. 2, we can now approach vv. 8-10.

Verse 8. For by grace you have been saved by faith. We remember that when Paul wrote that we are saved by grace in v. 5, he wrote that this grace made us alive, and separated from the bondage of sin (similar to when Paul wrote: ďHe who has died has been justified freed from sinĒ (Rom. 6:7). He has thus already laid down the transformative nature and power of grace. Grace is not a covering, or a mere imputation of Christís righteousness to our account, where, as White wrote ďChristís righteousness becomes oursĒ. Nevertheless, it is not our own doing. This transformation is a gift indeed given to us by God. It originates from God and is not our own doing, as Paul writes in v. 8. We do not work our way to heaven. We can not approach God through boasting, as he writes in v. 9. This shows that foundational to our relationship with Christ is our total reliance upon him to transform us. We can not transform ourselves by our own power. Thus, we can not boast. Thus, when it says, ďit is not of works, lest anyone should boastĒ, it says we do not work to earn salvation. It is Godís gift to us that ontologically transforms us, not us transforming ourselves. If we approach God through our own boasting and self-reliance, we are condemned (v. 9). When Paul condemns work salvation schemes, he condemns those who approach God through boasting (Rom. 2:17, 23, 3:27, Rom. 4:2). However, he never condemns works when done through Godís grace as achieving salvation. In fact, elsewhere he says that grace empowered works are necessary to achieve salvation (Rom. 2:4-13, Gal. 6:8-9, 1 Tim. 6:18-19, etc.). Nevertheless, the point here by Paul is that we must approach God humbly and be utterly reliant upon his mercy and grace, before we can approach him for salvation. We are saved through his power alone. We do not boast about ourselves. But God raises us up to be sons called to holiness.

In v. 10, Paul confirms this outlook on salvation. He writes that we are his workmanship. Our work in his grace is his work in our lives. Paul does not write here, OK, ďnow I move on to sanctification, and thus, now we do good works to prove that we are already saved.Ē, or something to that effect. Verse 10 is not some new category from which Paul digresses from the whole section on salvation. Instead, he now states the kind of works which do profit unto salvation, as opposed to that which does not. We are Godís workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, according to Paul. Now in his grace and under his mercy, and in his power, we shall now walk in him. This is what profits unto salvation. It is by grace alone that we are saved. It is not by works done under our own power. We must be put within Godís realm of grace for our works to profit anything. The gift of God which profits to salvation is thus not only faith as mentioned in v. 8, but grace empowered works as well.

Ephesians 5:1-10

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not associate with them, 8 for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Paul writes in this section in the context of those people who will go to heaven, again, as opposed to those who are not, and what are the grounds of that separation. He is actually continuing a discussion of not having bad conduct in speech and action (Eph. 4: 17-30). The context is of the need for people to renew their hearts and mind in the Holy Spirit and conducting lives in accord with the holiness of God. The prior section in Eph. 4:17, etc. is quoted in the Council of Trent on the need for renewal in holiness. God calls us to put away malice and instead put on holiness. This reminds us of our examination of Galatians 5, where Paul separates those heaven bound from those who are hell bound based on their actions (Gal. 5:19-21).

Paul in the section I just quoted in Ephesus 5, three times refers to believers as children. He had in the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians referred to sons as those who are called to be holy and blameless before God (1: 4-5). In Eph. 5:1 we, are called beloved children. Paul gives us the contrast of us being children of God and children of light called to walk in holiness (vv. 1, 8), as opposed to sons of disobedience (v. 6) who will suffer wrath. Thus, our relationship with God in the context of judgment (as we see in this section) is put in familial terms. The Father-Son relationship is foundational to our understanding of how God judges. It is not a legal, forensic manner of judgment as posited by Sola Fide advocates (James White, Roman Catholic Controversy, pp. 153-156, Geisler, pp. 244-246, Sproul, 109-113, Buchanan, pp. 314-338). There is no mention of a forensic transaction, which is foundation to these authorsí view.

After spelling out the need for us to walk as children in holiness (vv. 1-2), he mentions the need to not get into impure lustful things. He wants us to speak of thankfulness to God (v. 3) and not even think of those things. What is the purpose of this? Obviously for our peace of mind here, no doubt. However, more importantly Paul directly ties our thoughts deeds and actions on these matters to not temporal results or extra rewards in heaven, but eternal consequences (As Jesus does in Mt. 12:36-37). Thus, he sees these actions as being the cause of either entering heaven or hell. Paul makes declarative statements in verses 5 and 6. He is writing this letter to believers (he addresses this letter to the saints who are in Christ Jesus (1:1-2). He writes that believers can be sure of this 5:5-6: Those who are immoral, impure and covetous will not inherit heaven. He writes that those who practice the immoral things fall into idolatry. They will not inherit heaven. As he is writing this to Christians, and any Christian who is honest with himself will admit that it is very possible that he can fall into immorality, impurity or covetousness. Paul then writes in v. 5 that they can be sure of this, that those who practice those things, will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul explicitly condemns the idea that if one falls into these things he will not disinherit himself. There is absolutely no hint of an idea that one is covered with an imputed righteousness through which one avoids the consequences of such actions. If that is not clear enough, he condemns people who teach that those actions will not bring your disinheritance. He reiterates it again in v. 6 where he says let no one deceive you with empty words, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. It is clearly a deception in Paulís mind, for people to consider the idea that someone will still go to heaven with these things on their souls. The context here is thus clearly of Godís judgment and not a discussion of how many rewards Christians will get in heaven if they do less of these sins, but these actions are a cause of a separation for those going to heaven or hell. We must desire to pursue the things of God and do righteous things. If we do not pursue the things of God, we can easily fall into the sins so described by Paul that cause us to be disinherited from heaven.

There is no hint in these passages of even a hint of an imputation of Christís righteousness to our account covering these types of sins. We can also note that we can lose our sonship and inheritance by our acts of disobedience. In v. 1 we are called sons, in the context of Christís sacrifice for our sins. In the following verses we are called not to get into those things that take us away from God, because we donít want to fall as the sons of disobedience who will experience the wrath of God. (vv. 6-7). We are not to live a life of sin as those who so disobey (vv. 8-9). He calls us again to live as children of light (v.9). When we recognize that we are Christís adoptive sons and act in our lives according to that recognition, we are much more likely to stay in his grace. Nevertheless, the very real possibility of losing our sonship and inheritance in the Kingdom of God, is shown by Paul, when we show such disregard for our Father. This is not the only place that Paul shows that actions can cause our disinheritance. He shows that Christians can either gain or lose their salvation in terms of gaining or losing their inheritance by their actions here: Gal. 5:19-21, Rom. 8:14-17, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Col. 3:23-25.

Phillippians 2:12-16

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 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.

This passage shows just on the face of it, a doctrine that absolutely shows the necessity of works, as it specifically says work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Paul does not write work out your sanctification for better rewards in heaven. He specifically writes that working out this salvation is necessary (v. 12), and that it is only God at work in you (making it grace empowered works) that enables one to work this salvation out. How do Evangelicals try to explain this passage and maintain the ĎSola Fideí idea? Norman Geisler attempts to explain this passage and attack the Catholic Church interpretation of this passage in the following way:

We do not work in order to get salvation; rather, we work because we have already gotten it. God works salvation in us by justificaton, and by Godís grace we work it out in sanctification (Phil. 2:12-13). But neither justification nor sanctification can be merited by works; they are given by grace. Gifts cannot be worked for, on wages can. As Paul declared, ďwhen one does not work, yet believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousnessĒ Norman Geisler, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, p. 233.

Geislerís attack on the Catholic interpretation is clearly a twisting of not only the Bible, but Catholic teaching. First, he attempts to put words in Paulís hand that his hand does not write. Paul does not write God works salvation in us by justificaton, and by Godís grace we work it out in sanctification. Paul writes instead Ďwork out your salvationí. He does not write work out your sanctification for more rewards in heaven as a nice side effect of salvation. Then, in Geislerís attempt to say that a gift can not be worked for, he knocks down a straw man, when he attempts to write that Catholics teach earning salvation. The Catholic view is not that we earn salvation, but we are exclusively under his grace and mercy. Under his grace and mercy, and in the realm of grace, God graciously rewards his sons and daughters with salvation . This is shown not only here but elsewhere (for example, see Mt. 25:31-46, Rom. 2:4-13, Gal. 6:8-9). Paul shows this here when he writes ďFor it is God at work in you both to will and to do for his good pleasureĒ. In fact it is Godís gift that he transforms us to be able to so work at God's good pleasure. It makes absolutely no sense to say because God enables us to do things, that it is no longer his gift to us. In the Catholic view, it is not an employer employee earning strawman that Geisler indicates, but a Father who rewards his Son because the Father keeps to his promises. It is thus not a wage situation. Actually, his diversion to Romans 4 completely undermines his own argument, as Romans 4 conclusively shows through the life of David and Abraham that salvation is not a one time thing, but a continuous process. I have examined this in depth at the following urls: Romans 4, David and Abraham - One Time Imputation Or Process?, and Romans 4:4-8: Proof for Justification by Faith Alone?, and Galatians 3:10-14, Faith, Works, and Works of the Law.

Geislerís ignores the force of Paulís wordís to work out your salvation Ďwith fear and trembling.í If as Geisler otherwise indicates that when one is declared righteous, Paul means ďWhen a person is justified, God pronounces that one acquitted-in advance of the final judgmentĒ (Geisler, p. 245). However, Paul writes here instead to work out your salvation. If one is acquitted beforehand, what in the world is there to put your salvation in terms of fear and trembling. There should be nothing to fear at all if one is as Geisler writes,"acquitted in advance of the final judgment".
Geisler also uses a term that others use to avoid the full force of Paulís words. He writes that Catholicism "confuses working for and working from salvation. Catholicism fails to recognize the important difference between working for salvation and working from salvation. We do not work in order to get salvation; rather, we work because we have already gotten it." Paul writes no such thing as working from salvation as opposed to working for salvation. He writes work it out. If you donít work it out, you donít get it. It is simple as that. The fear and trembling aspect to salvation, though not necessarily pleasant to our ears, are words written by Paul himself.

When people examine Phil 2:12-13, the analysis of these verses often stop there. However, the following verses complete what Paul has started and in any honest exegesis they can not be so ignored. After telling us to not grumble or question when working out our salvation (v. 14), Paul writes that as children of God (again, not putting our salvation in terms of a legal, forensic justification but in terms of a Father-Son relationship) we must pursue holiness in the midst of a perverse world and we must shine as lights (v. 15). The concluding verse of this section seals the case that we know that when we work this salvation out, it is conditional, and the subject is salvation, not merely sanctification. Paul writes that we must hold 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. If we are guaranteed salvation, why must we hold fast the word of life in order to achieve it? This conditions salvation to holding fast to the word of life in order to pass judgement on the day of Christ. Paul is concerned that all his work for the Phillippian readers will be in vain. For heavenís sake (literally), if Paul was sure that Phillippian believers (the readers of this epistle) were guaranteed salvation, and all they had to do was work from salvation (whatever that means), how in the world could he run in vain? It is obvious that if through Paulís labors people received their forensic justification as a past tense event, it would be impossible for Paul to worry about laboring in vain. At least they would have salvation. If believers just got fewer rewards in heaven because they didnít work from salvation, they still got into heaven!!! That certainly would not be in vain. Of course Paulís labor would be in vain only if they did not achieve salvation because they did not work out their salvation, (v. 12), or did not remain innocent and fell in with the world in sins (v. 15). The only way that Paulís statement in v. 16 makes any sense at all, is if salvation is at stake. The Phillippian believers must hold fast to the word in order to thus achieve salvation in the day of judgment, and thus render Paulís efforts not to be in vain. The same is true for us. We must hold fast to the word of life in order to achieve salvation in the day of judgment.

Phillippians 3:8-14

8 Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

This passage in context easily shows the need for perseverance in order for one to achieve salvation, including Paul himself, who says that he must press on, and that his salvation is possible and he has not achieved it yet. Ironically, Sola Fide Protestants will use Phil. 3:8-9 (and ignore the surrounding verses) taken out of context, and even use it to promote an imputation of Christís righteousness to prove a forensic justification!!! For example, James White states ďFrom begnning to end, salvation is of GodĒ : He then quotes Phil. 3:8-9. Then he writes "This is the only righteousness that will avail for us" (James White, Roman Catholic Controversy, p. 153. He then goes on to write on how this passage establishes forensic justification. What Paul wrote White blows up out of the immediate context. Yes, Paul does write that having a righteousness based on the law is worth nothing before Christ. Righteousness that has its source in the law indeed does not avail. The system of law indeed saves nobody. The Catholic Church agrees with that 100%. The system of grace supplants the system of law. Paul had earlier mentioned how he tried to live by the law as an observant Pharisee, where he attempted to in effect earn salvation (Phil. 3:4-7). He now sees that attempt to gain salvation as rubbish (v. 8). In my earlier analysis of the contrast on the system of law v. grace in Paul in Romans 4 and Gal. 3, I gave earlier links for anybody so interested in further study on the issue of grace. However, in the immediate context in Phil. 3, we see references for the need to persevere. The righteousness that comes through faith in Christ is vastly better and sufficient to bring salvation. The law wasnít able to to do.

The verses following 8 and 9 show indeed that salvation is a future event. He writes that through faith he may know him. Future tense. Yes, Paul knows him now, but it is still a quest to know him in the future (v. 10). In Paulís mind, this is not guaranteed for him. He must strive to attain the power of his resurrection (v. 10). Paul then writes that he wants to share in his suffering (v. 11). What is the purpose of sharing in his suffering? More rewards in heaven? No. Paul had written in Rom. 8:17 that we would be heirs to be with Christ , provided we suffer with him. Here in Philippians he lays down the same condition. We must imitate Christ. so if possible (v. 11) he may attain the resurrection of the dead. If salvation is merely a one time past event where oneís salvation is secure, Paulís letter makes absolutely no sense. He spells out not only the salvific efficacy of suffering here (as in Rom. 8:17), but also writes that if possible, he may obtain the resurrection from the dead. It is clearly no guarantee at all. Whiteís twisting of Phil. 3:8-9 to suit his theory of an imputation of an alien righteousness of Christ where oneís salvation is set in stone, totally falls by the wayside, when Paulís uses the words if possible. Paul follows this up in v. 12 by writing that he has not already attained this or am already perfect. He is not perfect in any sense yet. However, if Paul had attained perfection through Christís imputed righteousness, he would indeed have achieved perfection. Or he could have written, as the Christian Research Institute head Hank Hannegraph indicates, Paul could have written, "practically we sin all the time, but positionally we are perfect". However, Paul does not write this. Instead, he sees his own salvation as something to strive for. He writes that he needs to achieve the end of attaining this resurrection from the dead by making it his own (v. 12). Here he is applying his concept spelled out earlier of working out his salvation with fear and trembling. He must press on in order to achieve this and reach for attaining this goal (vv. 13-14).

To go to Paul's letters to Colossians and 1 & 2 Thessalonians click here

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

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Last modified January 5, 2000.