Saturday, October 27, 2007

How Does Jesus' Death Save Us?

(Mmm, soteriology...)

I previously said:
"We are the defendants, and we are guilty.

There must be a price paid (more like our civil court than criminal). That price can only be paid by the blood of Jesus."
God hates sin (and sinners, you cannot easily separate the sin from the sinner). If you doubt this, read Leviticus 10. Sin can take many forms, but fundamentally it is disobeying God's commands.

God is just. Deuteronomy 32:4 is particularly beautiful: "[He is] the Rock, His work [is] perfect: for all His ways [are] judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right [is] he".

God cannot simply forgive people, without punishment. Would a human judge be considered just if he let guilty people go if they said "Sorry"? We call it a "slap on the wrist", and we are outraged (and rightly so).

We cannot pay the punishment ourselves. This is "works righteousness". If we can pay the punishment ourselves, then we can "earn" our salvation. In a sense, God would "owe" us salvation. You don't thank your boss for your paycheck (well, you might say "Thank you" when he hands you the check). It's yours. If he doesn't give it to you, he is a thief. And you don't have gratitude. You worked hard for that check. In some sense, you are equal (in that you deal equitably). He barters for your work, and you barter for pay. That is not how we relate to the creator of the universe.

So God paid the price Himself. He poured out His wrath on His own Son. Jesus' death reveals the magnitude of our crimes against God. It reveals God's love, that He would do that for us. So God is just. And He is love. Merciful. Gracious.

Consider 2 Corinthians 5:20c-21: "be ye reconciled to God. For He hath made Him {Jesus} [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

This is the great exchange. Our sins were assigned to Jesus, and He paid the price for those sins: beaten, and removed from the sight of God (Matthew 27:46). At the same time, Jesus' righteous life is assigned to us (we'll ignore imputed versus infused righteousness for now).


TheDen said...

Hey Ned,

Good post. From my initial readings, I can pretty much agree with all of it.

You talk about the works salvation and working. I liken it more to my parents and my eventual inheritance from them.

There's nothing I can do to "earn" my parents' estate when they both pass on--actually, my father already has passed. However, my parents have the right to leave me whatever they want from all of it to nothing. Ergo, it's not in my hands but in theirs. So, while I cannot "earn" it, I can "lose" it. How would that be? By not actively showing my love for them. If I hate my parents (or am indifferent to them), my parents could cut me out of their will and I don't have much say.

In the New Testament, Paul talks about our inheritance often and I really believe he viewed it this way as well.

Focusing on salvation would be the equivalent of focusing on how much my parents are going to leave me. Instead of doing that, I would rather focus on my time with them and not on the inheritance.

nedbrek said...

There are works that we can do. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 talks about our works being tried by fire.

But it is fairly clear this a judgment for believers (verse 15):
"If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."

It's true our full inheritance is more than salvation. In a public forum, I like to make sure everyone hears the bad news of sin, wrath, and judgment; as well as the Good News of salvation.

TheDen said...

Works are extremely important but not what saves us. God demands obedience from us. This is evident with Noah and the Ark. Noah was saved from the flood because of his faith. Noah was chosen by God to survive the flood along with the seven others before the earth was created.

However, if Noah did not work and build the ark, he would have drowned with the rest of them. So, it’s great to have faith but having an “obedience of faith” per Romans is equally important. This is what James alludes to regarding work.

I believe it goes like this:


Through obedience, we love God as it’s the greatest commandment. We love God because of our faith. In that love comes all other obedience.

The obedience comes from faith and the faith comes from grace. Where does the Salvation come from? From our work through faith fully dependent on God’s grace. Everything is from the Grace of God and not because of us. When we are baptized, we receive the mark of the Holy Spirit only by God’s grace and not from anything that we do. We, however, still have to do it. Just like Noah had to build the ark.

Interesting that you brought up that 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 as I had brought it up to you a few months ago as the evidence of Purgatory. Man must first have a foundation of Jesus Christ (v 11) then be purged of all impurities—as through fire—before He can be perfect and see God. Which you also alluded to in a previous post. If our works are perfect, i.e. works of gold or precious gems then the purging fire will make them more brilliant as fire does to gold. If they are of straw or wood—ie not perfect then God will burn them up before you can be with Him.

nedbrek said...

Ok, you have gone far towards convincing me many Catholics are saved (although I don't know how well you line up with actual Catholic teaching :)

The only difference I see is:
grace allows for faith, which brings salvation (positional sanctification). Out of gratitude and grace we are obedient. Obedience from saving faith brings forth good works. (Which should be an expression of standard Protestant soteriology).

There is an interesting post on Ignatius Insight concerning Protestant and Catholic ecumenism, I will try to post on it.

TheDen said...


What I’m telling you “should” line up with Catholic Teaching as I’ve learned this all through priests and the Catechism.

From reading our differences, I’ll be honest with you…it’s not that big of a difference. Definitely not worth arguing about.

Take care and God Bless...

braverdave said...

Well ... I think Catholic teaching has changed (for the better) over time (Theden, any clarification you can give to this matter would be greatly appreciated).

For instance;

If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation...and that without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain from God, through faith alone, the grace of justification...let him be anathema
(excerpted from The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent - Session VII - Canon IV)

Those sacraments supposedly necessary for salvation being baptism, penance, and the eucharist mass and explicitly not by faith alone else they are anathema (damned to destruction?). Pretty straight forward.

But a little further along in time the above statement from the Council of Trent is explained as follows by the Catholic Encyclopedia;

Sacraments - I. Necessity and Nature
(1) In what sense necessary
Almighty God can and does give grace to men in answer to their internal aspirations and prayers without the use of any external sign or ceremony. This will always be possible, because God, grace, and the soul are spiritual beings. God is not restricted to the use of material, visible symbols in dealing with men; the sacraments are not necessary in the sense that they could not have been dispensed with. But, if it is known that God has appointed external, visible ceremonies as the means by which certain graces are to be conferred on men, then in order to obtain those graces it will be necessary for men to make use of those Divinely appointed means. This truth theologians express by saying that the sacraments are necessary, not absolutely but only hypothetically, i.e., in the supposition that if we wish to obtain a certain supernatural end we must use the supernatural means appointed for obtaining that end. In this sense the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, can. 4) declared heretical those who assert that the sacraments of the New Law are superfluous and not necessary, although all are not necessary for each individual.
(excerpted from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

So necessary ... but not really necessary. Not so straight forward anymore but certainly better and more flexible than the original canon and more importantly there is a direct nod to man's faith and God's grace.

TheDen said...


Catholic teaching has not changed in the last 2000 years. It’s been thought about and better defined but not changed.

Regarding Trent and the Anathemas…we need to understand what anathemas are and the Catholic understanding specifically what it meant in terms of Trent.

An Anathema is a very formal excommunication where there was a very formal ceremony that followed with the reading of the names and then closing of a book and blowing out of the candle. Essentially, it means that this person was not in communion with Church teachings.

When Trent issued Anathemas, it was to the Catholics like Luther and Calvin, etc. who were making specific statements such as, “the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation...and that without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain from God, through faith alone, the grace of justification.” What this means is that if you’re Catholic and teaching this…You’re not Catholic!!! Hardly groundbreaking stuff. For the Protestant Reformers, it meant that yes…they were going through this formal process where they were excommunicated.

What does it mean for normal Protestants like you or Ned? It really means nothing because you can’t be formally excommunicated from a Church that you’re not fully in communion with anyway. Right?

In no way was it communicated or understood…then or now that you were damned for all eternity to Hell for teaching these things as only God has that power.

Now, regarding Sacraments…we need to understand what they are. Sacraments are a visible sign of God bestowing grace to an individual and they are all based off of Scripture. At Baptism, a person receives the Sanctifying (Saving) Grace from God not because of the Baptism but only because of God’s grace.

If a person after Baptism sins thus separating himself from God (like Adam and the fall), his sins must be forgiven (through Jesus by the authority given by Him to the apostles) and he must be reconciled to the Body of Christ through the sacrament of confession. Note, the grace given is by God and not from the priest or the Church and not from his act of confessing…yet he must still confess.

During the Eucharist, it’s the individual receiving the Body of Christ. It’s the literal uniting of man to the Body of Christ and it gives us the grace for eternal life (per John 6…whoever eats my flesh/drinks my blood…). The grace of eternal life is not from the act of eating His flesh and blood but from the grace freely given by God.

Now, as to your quote from the Catholic encyclopedia, what that is saying is that God gives us graces freely through the Sacraments; HOWEVER, God is not bound by them which means that He can give His grace to whomever He chooses. So, if a Protestant believes that Faith alone can save, God has the power to save that person as it is within His power to do so.

So, what the Church is saying is that the ONLY way they know of assurance of salvation is through the Sacraments. Why? Because there are visible signs of receiving God’s sanctifying grace (freely); it’s what was taught to us from the Apostles; and it fully complies with Sacred Scripture.

I hope this clarifies it. It makes sense in my head but it’s hard to put down on paper.

TheDen said...

One other note...the Catholic Encyclopedia was written in 1913. So, new by Church standards but also almost 100 years old. Well before Vatican II and not modern thought.

braverdave said...

Thanks Theden, for the clarifications. I was doing some more reading on the history of the Catholic Encyclopedia and did learn that it was from nearly 100 years ago. I would have thought it was something that would be revised on a regular basis but did read something about a New Catholic Encyclopedia as well. Here is a question that I had and didn't find an answer for; Did the RC Church itself order the creation of the Catholic Encyclopedia? If not is it recognized as accurate by the RC Church. I ask because many times people write things about their denominations that are not wholly approved by the denomination authorities (if they have one).

I know what you mean about putting thoughts down into words. Words can be clear but not as clear and encompassing as the ideas in our minds.

nedbrek said...

This is kind of off topic, but what is your take on the return of the Latin Mass?

Is it a supplement to a Mass in one's native tongue, or a replacement?

TheDen said...


The Catholic Encyclopedia is not an officially sanctioned Church document meaning that it was not issued by the Vatican--such as the Catechism or a Papal Document.

Saying that, the encyclopedia does not conflict with Church teaching as it bears the following marks:

1. Nihil Obstat (Latin for "Nothing Stands in the Way")--meaning that it was reviewed by the Church and someone in the Church--called a sensor--has declared that nothing written in it conflicts with Church teaching.

2. Imprimatur (Latin for "Let it be printed")--meaning that it was reviewed by a bishop and he has authorized that it is okay for teaching and faith.

If you ever want to read anything for learning the Catholic Church, look in the book for those two marks. They are usually in the beginning with the copyright.


Regarding the Latin Mass, I have never been to a true Latin Mass so I don't have much of an opinion one way or another.

There are some people who have issues with the Novus Ordo (i.e. non-Latin) mass. I think they're focusing on the wrong things.