The Necessity of Grace-Empowered Works
by Matt1618

Refutation of Two Fundamentalists' tracts on Salvation

September 16, 1995
Fellowship Tract League
P.O. Box 164
Lebanon, OH 45036

I have revised this letter some, as I needed to make a few revisions,
corrections, and links. Any new comments are in red

To whom it may concern:

I am writing this letter because I came upon two tracts that you publish, "Where are you going to spend Eternity?", and "You must have his Righteousness". There is much truth to your tracts, and I affirm what is true in them. We are all sinners, we need God's grace, Christ died for each of us, and faith and trust in him are essential for salvation. That is true. I made a salvation prayer when I was 19 years old and trusted in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, that changed my life based on an Evangelical sharing his faith with me. Much of what was shared with me was based on Romans, as your tracts were. I was led to believe in faith alone, and the bible alone, as mentioned in your tracts. However, over the course of many years of bible study, I believe that the view of salvation in your tracts, while holding some truth, also misunderstands scripture's meaning. Salvation by faith alone is an incorrect understanding of scripture.

I have come to believe through scripture that the Catholic view of salvation is correct. What is the Catholic view? We believe just as you do that you are not saved by your own works. We are saved by grace alone, as stated in Eph 2:8-9. The question is how does God's grace and mercy apply to us? We agree that you must be born again, as stated in John 3:3. What does that phrase mean? Nowhere does the bible say what I was taught that in order to be born again, you must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Jesus explained in John 3:5 what he meant in John 3:3. He said one must be born of water and Spirit. Other Scriptures that talk of the salvific power of baptism include: 1 Pet. 3:21, Acts 2:38-39, Roman 6:3-4, Mark 16:16, Gal. 3:27, Acts 22:16, etc. For further study, see the following links:In Defense of Baptismal Regeneration, and An Attack on Baptismal Regeneration: Matt Responds. All Christians until the 16th century taught that born again meant baptism. Even Luther believed that born again meant baptism and saw it as how God's grace was applied.

What about the thief on the cross? He was not water baptized. That is true, but the church also holds to baptism of desire as being sufficient. It is obvious that he could not get baptized at the time and he would have if possible. What about Acts 16:31, as quoted in your tract? Paul says "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved...." If you look at the following verses, you will see that Paul led him not to a salvation prayer, but to baptism.

We do not believe that salvation is only a past tense experience. We can say that we have been saved, as in Eph 2:8 and Romans 5:1, but that does not end it. We believe that you must live salvation out, as it is an ongoing process. 1 Peter 3:21 reads baptism saves (present). Romans 3:24 reads that we are being justified freely by his grace. 1 Cor 1:18 reads "to us who are being saved". Jesus says in Matthew 10:22 and Mark 13:13 that "he who endures to the end will be saved" (Rev 2:25-26, Heb 6:11) (future).

Abraham as the father of faith perfectly shows this, as interpreted by the New Testament authors, Paul and James. In Romans 4:3, Paul refers to Genesis 15:6 in writing that "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted him for righteousness." That was when God promised Abraham that he would be a father, despite his age. Does that mean that until that point Abraham was not a man of faith, and he was not justified before that, as your tracts implied? By no means! Heb 11:8-9 proclaims that by faith Abraham obeyed when he sojourned into a foreign country. That harkens back to Genesis 12, years before Genesis 15. Read Genesis 12 thru 15, and you will see Abraham clearly as a man of faith, years before Genesis 15. Abraham was already saved, and Genesis 15:6 is only a continuation of the process. If we look at James 2:21, we see that Abraham was justified when he offered Isaac on the altar in Genesis 22, years after Genesis 15. We can see that over the course of many years, Abraham at least three times is declared justified. The New Testament and Old Testament writers show us through Abraham that salvation is not just a one time declarative act, but an ongoing process, that includes obedience.

Your tracts say that only faith is necessary for salvation, and you can not add works, at least in regards to salvation. Is obedience necessary for salvation, or do you trust your salvation prayer, (as long as you really mean it)? Your tracts say that faith alone is necessary whereas we say faith plus works are necessary. We believe that faith saves and that it includes trusting in Jesus, but that faith includes obedience. For example Paul in Romans 1:5, 6:16, and 16:26 writes about the obedience of faith. Hebrews 5:9 explains, "having been perfected, he became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him." To write that faith is only believing and trusting in Jesus, and excludes obedience is therefore an unbiblical view of faith. If you disobey God, you do not have a saving faith.

The term salvation by faith alone is used only one time in the New Testament. In James 2:24 James writes that we are not justified by faith alone. I have heard people try to say that means salvation before the world, or a demonstration before man, but nowhere does James 2 say that. One must read 2:14-24 to show that James is talking about salvation. James is writing about the faith of Abraham. Now you can correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know, when Abraham was about to offer Isaac on the altar in Genesis 22, I do not believe that there was an audience of men watching, but only God who saw this act of justifying faith. It is clear that James is writing about justification before God.

Jesus' very words in Matthew 25:31-46 show the necessity of works for salvation. Read very carefully about the sheep and the goats and how Jesus separated them. You will notice that he does not conform to your tracts on salvation. He does not say "Come, ye sheep, who really believed in me, and you will inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Depart from me goats, into hell, those of you who did not believe in me." If Jesus followed the theology of your tracts, that is what he would have said. You will notice that he said their salvation depended on how they treated others. Another interesting point is that even the goats who were sent to hell called him Lord, Lord (verse 44). In other words, they had said their salvation prayer and believed in faith alone, but did not obey him.

In Romans 2, 8 verses show that good works are shown to be essential to be in right standing with God. Romans 2:6, 7, 10, 13, 14, 25, 26, and 27 show this. For example verses 6-7 say God "will render to each one according to his works. Eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality." In verse 13, not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.

There are countless other scriptures that likewise show that faith needs works for salvation. Just a few of them: 2 Cor 5:10, Col 3:24-25, 1 Peter 1:13-17, Rev 20:12-13, Rev 2:10, 17, 26, 3:5, 11-12, Gal 6:9-10, Matthew 19:16-17, 1 Tim 4:16, John 15:5-14. Works and obedience are shown necessary for salvation. Faith must work in love according to Galatians 5:6. Our faith in Christ and our growing in holiness by keeping the commandments go hand in hand (Rom 1:5, 16:26).

By stating that works and obedience are necessary am I saying that I am earning my salvation? By no means! Phil 2:12-16 is a very good explanation of what the church is saying, what I believe, and what your tract left out. Paul says "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain." It is God who empowers us to do his will. However we must run this race in cooperation with him. When he grants us salvation, he is only crowning his own merits. We have absolutely no power, in and of ourselves, to do what he wants. That is God's grace at work.

Does not Paul say that you are not saved by works in Romans and Galatians? (My original response was incorrect. I tried to limit Paul's objections to works of the law to only circumcision, Jewish rituals, etc. in such verses as Romans 3:28, Gal. 2:16. However, upon further study, I have seen that any kind of law, in and of itself will not save. Even the moral law will not save, per se (Rom. 7:6, Gal. 3:10-14 etc.). For a thorough investigation of what Paul means when he condemns works that do not save, see this: Galatians 3:10-14, Faith, Works, and Works of the Law.) Through Christ we can put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom 8:13). 1 Cor 6:9-10, Gal 5:19-21, Rev 21:8, 22:14-15, Eph 5:3-5, all are parts of letters written to Christians. If those serious moral laws are violated by Christians and they do not repent, they will not inherit heaven. Otherwise these warnings would make no sense. Christians are required to observe those moral laws. However, it is God who enables us to live them. If we commit those serious sins, we must repent of them.

You also wrote in your tracts that Abraham was not justified by works because of Romans 4:1-5. It is true that it actually affirms in 4:2 that Abraham was not justified by works, and as you quoted "but to him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." But what works are Paul referring to? It is about the works of the law. What does Paul talk about prior to and after 4:1-5?. In Romans 3:27 and 4:2 he remarks that those who boast can not save. Paul condemns the self-righteous attitude of the Judaizers in the context. When one attempts to make God a debtor (Rom. 4:4) he will not be saved. One must come into and be under the auspices of grace, before any works are meritorious.

What about the phrase in 4:3 that Abraham's faith is "accounted for righteousness"? That is often taken to mean that is the moment of salvation, when he first believed. I have already shown thru Hebrews 11:8, and Genesis 12 through 15 that Abraham was a believer much before that. God is shown to be rewarding Abraham's good work of faith. A very similar passage to show this is Psalm 106:31. In this Psalm, the same term is used of Phineas, "that was accounted to him for righteousness", when Phineas had slain some fornicators. It did not mean that Phineas had said a salvation prayer, and all he had to do was believe. No, it was God recognizing a righteous man who had put his faith into action. That is the same thing with Abraham, not as mentioned in your tracts.

One tract quoted Eph 2:8-9 to show that works are not necessary for salvation. After all it does say "For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." However that tract left out the very next verse, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." If we do any of the good works that are necessary for salvation, as stated above in Philippians, it is purely God through Christ who does it through us. In verse 11 Paul again shows that he is talking about circumcision as the works that are of no use. About boasting, Paul in Romans shows that it is again works of the law, that the Judaizers boast about. Paul writes in Romans 2:17 "Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God. Romans 2:23 says "you who make your boast in the law." Paul, with the Judaizers is running into the same problem that Jesus ran into with the Pharisees per Luke 16:15. They boasted about their outer rituals without repenting, and changing their hearts before God. As Paul writes in Gal 6:15, "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation."

At the root of the differences between us on justification is does God merely declare us righteous, as your tract says, or does God do what he declares, and make us righteous, as we say? We say that God does more than impute his righteousness to us, but he actually pours his own righteousness into our souls. He makes us children in his family, as in 1 John 3:1-7 and Rom 8:13-14, not merely acquitted criminals. We do not believe that we are only dirty people, whose sins are only covered, as Luther said. We believe that scripture conceives of God's forgiveness of sin as clearing away (Psalm 102:1), Ps 51:3 blotting out, and taking away (John 1:29 and 1 John 3:5), not a mere covering.

In your tract you quoted Paul in Romans 3:10 quoting Psalm 14, declaring "No one is righteous, no not one. There is none who understands: There is none who seeks after God..." Does that mean as your tract implies, that since we are all so filthy, that the only way to be saved is getting Christ's imputed righteous? Does it mean even Christians who have the Holy Spirit, can not really be righteous? Or with that imputation, does he impart his own righteousness into our souls? Again, context, context, context is necessary. In regards to the context, Paul in Romans 3:1-9 writes in about circumcision, and what it does. The people who are opposing Paul are saying that if you are circumcised, you have it made in the shade, and you have no need to pursue holiness. In 3:9 Paul writes that this is not the case, that just being circumcised is not enough. He says both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, if they do not pursue holiness. However, you say, in Romans 3:10 it says there are none righteous, no not one! If Paul means that he would not only contradict himself in chapters 2, 6, and 8, (where he says we must pursue and attain righteousness, die to sin, and put to death the deeds of the flesh), but he would be wrenching the texts of Psalms and Isaiah out of context. Why does Paul quote Psalm 14, Psalm 5, Psalm 10, and Isaiah 59, in Romans 3:10-18? In the passages that he quoted, there are righteous people. For example, in Romans 3:10-12, Paul is quoting Psalm 14:1-3 to show that of these evil people, no, not one of them are righteous. However, in Psalm 14:4-5, the "Workers of iniquity have no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call on the Lord? There they are in great fear; For God is with the generation of the righteous." David had enemies and who were most of his enemies? They were mostly circumcised, unrighteous Jews. Just being a circumcised Jew did not make you righteous. However, there are clearly righteous people shown in this Psalm, but circumcision clearly did not make them so. In all the other Psalms and Isaiah, circumcised Jews were the ones who were unrighteous, and not in right standing with God. In none of those scriptures did it mean that there were not any righteous people. Paul does not butcher scripture to make points. He takes it that you understand the context of the scriptures that he is quoting from. "Don't assume that just because you are circumcised you will be right with God." You need to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14) for salvation, and only with Christ through the Holy Spirit can you be righteous. That is Paul's point.

Although your tracts did not mention it, another verse that is often mentioned is Isaiah 64:6, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags." This is often quoted to show that we are filthy rags and thus you need to be declared righteous by Christ's imputed righteous. It is often alleged that even with the Holy Spirit coming into our life, this infused righteousness does not actually make us righteous, but only declares us so. The context of this passage is that the land has been made desolate, and the people have not the temple in Jerusalem because of their blatant unrighteousness. When Isaiah is talking of we, it is obvious that he is talking about the people that he is representing, not himself. In Isaiah 64 we see that the people have been unfaithful. The Lord responds in Isa 65 to Isaiah's lament in chapter 64. The Lord specifically blasts the Jewish people that Isaiah represents. In vv 2-7 we see that he is specifically talking about the Jewish people being the rebellious people (v 2) who were offering sacrifices to false gods (vv 3, 7) and ate swine's flesh, breaking the Levitical law (v 4). These people have blasphemed God (v 7). God says (v 11) "You are the people who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain.." These people God will punish (v 12). This shows that these are the people whose righteousness are like filthy rags. There is no record anywhere of Isaiah burning incense to false gods, forsaking God, eating swine flesh or blaspheming God. Even in the midst of God's condemnation of the unfaithful people, we see people having actual righteousness who serve God and are called his people, in the context of a new covenant. Many did actually seek God who were not part of the old covenant (vv 1, 10). There will be a people who are elect (v 9), and part of the new wine. These people will called his servants and shall obtain many blessings in contrast to the people who are unrighteous (vv 13-16). In other words there are and will be people who worship God and God will strengthen them and make them righteous, unlike the people whose righteousness was indeed filthy rags in God's sight.

In Romans 6:2-3, Paul informs us that baptism makes us dead to sin. If one is in Christ he has been freed from sin in 6:7. Romans 7:7-25 shows that we still have concupiscence warring against our soul but who will deliver us from sin's hold on us? Jesus Christ in 7:25. The means to keep us in communion with him is his Holy Spirit who makes me free from the law of sin and death, 8:2. All through Chapter 8 we see that the Holy Spirit empowers us to live righteously. "The righteous requirement of the law is met in those who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit", 8:4. In Romans 8:13, Paul writes "If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." We are adopted children, who have a loving Father. Paul shows in Romans 8:17 that we are his children, and if children "then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together." Romans 8 clearly shows that salvation is conditional on much more than mere trust and belief. However, does not Romans 8:31-39 show that nothing will separate us from Christ no matter what evil we do? No, it does not say that. Paul writes that "tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword" will not separate us from Christ's love. You will notice that those things are a result of suffering, as noted earlier in the chapter. Paul does not write "Will adultery, lying, homosexuality, idolatry, thievery, selfish ambition, etc. separate us from Christ". Those things will separate us from eternal life, per Gal. 5:19-21, Rev 21:8, 22:14-15, 1 Cor 6:9-10, Eph 5:3-7.

I have found that when studying scripture, in regards to salvation or anything else, context and related verses are important. For example in John 5:24 Jesus says something that would seem to go along with your tract "He who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." Good works do not seem to be mentioned. However, a few verses later in 5:28-29, Jesus says "the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." Also, how did John interpret this very saying in 1 John 3:14? "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." Therefore, John used the same phrase that Jesus used in John 5:24 to show that salvation is conditioned upon love and action, not mere belief. This also agrees with Paul who writes in 1 Cor 13:2 that "If I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."

2 Peter 1:3-4 reads that by his divine power he has given to us "all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." Christ gives us divine sonship, not something that has to be covered. God empowers us as his children to be righteous (1 John 2:29). If any man is in Christ he is a new creation, not someone still unrighteous, or an old creation that God can only cover. Romans 5:19 plainly says that "For by one man's (Adam's) disobedience many were made sinners, so also through Jesus' obedience, many are made righteous" (not only declared). Through Adam's sin, all of us were made sinners. Original sin has gotten a hold on all of us. However, for the parallel to make any sense, Paul is saying that through Jesus we are not declared, but made righteous. That means that we must live a life of holiness and efforts must be made on our part, through his grace, to maintain the righteousness that he has given us. Nothing unclean shall enter the kingdom of heaven (Rev 21:27). If you are only declared clean, as Luther said, but not actually clean or righteous, one would not be able to enter heaven. If you are only covered you are still dirty underneath. If God has really cleansed you, as the verses just elaborated have shown, then you are really fit for heaven, according to Rev 21:27.

I have heard 1 John 5:13 many times. It proclaims that "these things are written that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." What are the things that John had written? 1 John 2:3-4 reads that we know that we know him if we keep his commandments. John writes in 1 John 2:28-29 that we must abide in him and "everyone who practices righteousness is born of him." How do we know that we are of the truth? 1 John 3:18 reads we can know that "if we love in deed and truth." 1 John 3:24 reads "He who keeps his commandments abides in him and he in him. By this we know that he abides in us by the Spirit whom he has given us." 1 John 5:1-3 also declares that we must keep his commandments, as they are not burdensome. John is echoing Jesus himself, who said "if you love me, keep my commandments", and in Matthew 19:16-17 conditioned eternal life upon it. Now I have heard many Protestants quote 1 John 5:13 saying that "These things are written that you may know that you have eternal life." Your tract indeed likewise says if you place your whole faith and trust in Jesus, then you can know that you are saved. What is not quoted along with that are the many scriptures just alluded to in the very letter that John wrote. John wrote that you must be righteous and obedient to God in order to have fellowship with him. Salvation is therefore conditioned upon not only accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, but also obedience to his commandments.

I believe that the bible gives us two verses that encapsulate why God sent his own son to die for us. John 3:16 is a verse that I treasure as much as anybody. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." Paul describes another reason that is not so well known among many Christians and is a description of God's grace. He writes in Titus 2:11-14 "The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works." This description of grace goes hand in hand with John 3:16. This verse, along with the many others already quoted, show that grace includes good works and actual righteousness. God does the work but I must cooperate with him. Grace must produce infused righteousness to avail anybody of salvation.

I write this letter because I feel that many people who love God so much and hold to the view of salvation as elaborated in your two tracts are missing out on much of scripture. Although there is much truth to your tracts, in that we are sinners, and it is only through God's grace that we are saved, the absolute necessity of obedience and good works as I have shown is an essential part of salvation. I believe that many people will end up in hell who believed in faith alone, and do not see good works as necessary, like the goats of Matthew 25:44. I have a real burden for people such as you, and I hope that this letter will challenge you to reevaluate your views on salvation.

Salvation by faith alone is not a biblical teaching, and when the bible is carefully studied, it can easily be seen to be unbiblical. Nobody for 15 centuries taught this. When men try to interpret the bible with no sense of history, errors soon follow. This is a byproduct of sola scriptura, where men presume on their own to try to figure out what the bible teaches with no sense of what Jesus has taught through his church for 2000 years. The slogans of the Reformation, "Sola Scriptura" (the bible alone) and "Sola Fide", (faith alone) are not only unbiblical, but are traditions of men which must be rejected.

I challenge the readers of this letter to see not only salvation as a process which requires obedience, but to turn to the church which Jesus established in which he promised that the "gates of hell shall not prevail". The Catholic church is the only church that can trace itself back to Jesus and has thus served as "the Pillar and ground of truth" per 1 Tim 3:15. I would encourage the reader of this letter to pass this letter to others in your ministry to see how these many other passages in scripture show a different view of salvation than what is put in your tracts. I may not change any of your views, but please take a serious look at what the bible actually teaches on salvation. I would love any interaction with any in your ministry. If you feel that I am wrong, please show me how I am biblically wrong, by refuting the many points that I have made. If there are any questions on salvation or the Catholic church, please feel free to e-mail me. Sincerely, Matt1618

To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

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