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The saving value of good works

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by Starlight11, Nov 14, 2011.

  1. Starlight11

    Starlight11 Geek

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    Growing up as an evangelical, I was taught that whether we go to heaven is based on our “faith alone” in “Christ alone” and not on our character or deeds. However, the more I studied what the Bible had to teach on the subject, the more convinced I became that this was wrong. The biblical writers believed that through faithfully following Christ's teachings and example we can become the type of loving people who will receive a positive final judgment from God. Our “salvation” then, depends very much upon us and our character and deeds, not solely upon Christ or our faith in him. Here are some of the reasons why I reached this conclusion:

    (1) The New Testament is full of statements which indicate that whether a person is (and does) good or evil is what counts at the final judgment.
    eg Jesus: "the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." (John 5:28-29)
    Likewise, Paul: "For he will repay according to each one's deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury." (Rom 2:6-8)

    See also: Matthew 7:21-23; 12:33-37; 19:17; 25:31-46; Luke 6:37-38; 12:47-48; 13:27; John 5:28-29; Acts 10:34-35; Romans 1:18; 2:6-11, 14-16; 8:13; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 11:14-15; Galatians 6:8-9; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:5-6; Colossians 3:24-25; 1 Timothy 5:24-25; 1 John 4:17; 1 Peter 1:17; 3:10-12; 2 Peter 2:9, 12-13; 3:7; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 20:12; 21:8.

    The New Testament has over 30 references to the final judgment which virtually without exception depict the criteria of that judgment to be a person's character and/or works. There is never a final judgment scene depicted in which the sheep and goats are separated based on their faith alone in Christ alone.

    (2) It is often claimed that no one can be sufficiently good to be acceptable to God, and that therefore salvation by works is impossible. Yet such a view contradicts extensive biblical testimony. Time and again, the Bible speaks of individuals or groups as “righteous”. Over 80 passages exemplify this usage:
    Genesis 6:9; 7:1. 2 Samuel 4:11. Job 1:1, 8. Psalms 1; 5:12; 7:9; 11:3, 5, 7; 14:5; 31:18; 32:11; 33:1; 34:15,17,19,21; 37:12-17,21,25,28-30,32,39; 52:6,22; 58:10-11; 64:10; 68:3; 75:10; 92:12; 94:15,21; 97:11-12; 112:4,6; 118:15,20; 125:3; 140:13; 141:5; 142:7; 146:8. Proverbs 3:33; 4:18; 9:9; 10:3,6,7,11,16,20-21,24-25,28,30-32; 11:8-10,21,23,28,30-31; 12:3,5,7,10,12-13,21,26; 13:5,9,21-22,25; 14:19,32; 15:6,28-29; 18:10; 20:7; 21:15,18,26; 23:24; 24:15; 28:1,12,28; 29:2,6-7,16,27. Ecclesiastes 3:17; 7:15; 8:14; 9:1-2. Isaiah 26:7; 57:1; 58:2. Lamentations 4:13. Ezekiel 3:20-21; 13:22; 18:9,20,24,26; 33:12-13,18. Amos 2:6; 5:12. Habakkuk 1:4; 2:4. Zephaniah 3:5. Malachi 3:18. Matthew 1:19; 5:45; 9:13; 10:41; 13:17; 13:49; 23:29; 23:35; 25:37,46. Mark 2:17; 6:20. Luke 1:6; 2:25; 5:31-32; 15:7; 23:50. Acts 24:15. Hebrews 11:4. James 5:16. 1 Peter 3:12; 4:18. 2 Peter 2:7-8. 1 John 3:7,12. Revelation 19:8; 22:11

    The Bible uses righteous versus wicked/sinner terminology the same as we talk about “good” and “bad” people today. You don’t have to be perfect to be “good” or “righteous”. Many other passages speak of people finding “favor” in God's sight, or of them pleasing God. Thus, the Bible repeatedly endorses the idea that humans can do a sufficient level of good to be acceptable to God and please him.

    The idea that no one can be righteous before God usually stems from two misinterpretations of Paul's writings:

    (2a) The first of those mistakes is to misinterpret Paul's list of quotations in Romans 3:10-18 as if it were saying that no human in the world was ever righteous before God. As we saw above, over 80 passages in the Bible describe people as righteous, and hence this interpretation of Paul sets him against the rest of the Bible. In this passage, Paul is quoting from six different Old Testament passages. In their original context they all contrast particular historical groups of unrighteous people with groups of righteous ones. Thus the context of every passage Paul quotes in Romans 3:10-18 asserts the existence of some righteous humans. To interpret Romans 3:10-18 as denying that any human has ever been righteous therefore puts it in direct contradiction with six out of six of the passages Paul is citing. What Paul is actually arguing is that following Jewish culture makes no difference in God’s eyes, and that what matters is morality. Thus he quotes examples of specific times and places where various Jews and various gentiles were called wicked and sinners because they did moral evil. He uses this to prove that simply following Jewish culture is not what makes a person right with God, but rather how they act: There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:9-11)

    (2b) Another common misinterpretation of Paul’s writings is to read Paul’s Spirit/Flesh discussions as if “flesh” referred to our “sinful nature”, and spirit referred to God’s action within us. In this reading, we sinful humans can do nothing good without God’s Spirit transforming us. However Paul is adopting traditional Greek philosophical terms to speak of conflicting desires within the human mind. This was a common Greek practice that went back at least as far as Plato (Republic 436c ff, Phaedrus 246b ff). The idea was that whenever we have conflicting desires, it must be because one part of our mind has a desire for one thing, and another part has a different desire. Paul is using the terminology in a standard way, familiar to his original readers, which classifies these as the fleshly part of our mind which represents the desires of the body (for food, drink, sex etc) and the spiritual part of our mind, which represents desires for abstract goods (honour, justice, mercy etc). In standard Greek moral philosophy both the spirit and flesh are parts of our minds. Many Christians reading Paul have mistakenly assumed that the “flesh” corresponded to our human nature and that the “spirit” corresponded to God's supernatural intervention via the Holy Spirit. Paul's discussions about the moral war within us between our different desires, have hence been mistakenly read as saying that our human nature is inherently sinful and that supernatural intervention is required for positive change.

    (3) Paul's statements that “works of the law” do not justify a person have often been misinterpreted as denying that good works can save. This has primarily been due to a misreading of “works of the law” as if it said “good works” and a misunderstanding of what the “law” was. Paul is trying to argue that morality is what matters to God and not a person's culture, race, or customs. Confusion has arisen because some Christians have misread Paul's phrase for referring to culture and customs (“work of the law”) as if it referred to morality (“good works”), when actually Paul is arguing against the first and in support of the second. In recent years there has been a great deal of progress made by scholars studying ancient Judaism. This has helped clarify that the Jews of Paul’s time equated the “law” with their culture and customs. This was a big issue in the first century, as the ancestral customs of Judaea were being undermined by the global influence of Greek culture, and Jews were prepared to kill or die for their traditions. Throughout his letters, Paul struggles to deal with the factionalism in his churches, as Jews believe following their customs (the law) is important. When Paul writes that justification is not by works of the law, he is saying that God is indifferent to culture and customs, he is not saying “no one can be right with God by human effort”.

    (4) The notion of “faith” is often set against the idea of good works. There is a translation issue here: The Greek word which Paul and other New Testament authors use for “faith” and “belief” is pistis. This word is more accurately translated as “faithfulness”. It is a synonym for “obedience”. Faithfulness to Christ is about committing yourself to his teachings and message and living by them. A “faithful servant” (Mat 25:21) is an obedient servant, not a servant who believes and trusts that his master will do all the work for him. In Paul's thinking, “faith” and “good works” mean pretty much the same thing. He speaks of the “obedience of faithfulness” (Romans 1:5, 16:26) and “work of faithfulness” (1 Thes 1:3, 2 Thes 1:11). To Paul, “faithfulness to Christ” means following Christ's teachings and living our lives by doing the good works that Jesus taught us to do. Jesus spoke out against the high value that the Pharisees were placing on the Judean ancestral customs, and instead emphasized that value of loving others and doing works which helped them. Faithfulness to Christ’s teachings therefore excludes placing a high value on those customs. Thus Paul contrasts faithfulness to Jesus / good works as one method of gaining God's favour over and against trying to gain God's favour through following Jewish culture and doing “the works of the law”.

    Thoughts? Comments?


    <Staff Edit>
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2011
  2. PaladinValer

    PaladinValer Traditional Orthodox Anglican

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    We are saved by the grace of God alone by living faith, which is right belief (orthodoxy) and right works (orthopraxy) together.
     
  3. Hentenza

    Hentenza I will fear no evil for You are with me Supporter

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    Works are a natural product of saving faith. These works have been prepared in advance for us to do and we have been created in Christ to be a workman. Consequently, works are done from salvation not for salvation. Works apart from faith are like filthy rags. Any works that we do for salvation are works that we can boast about. Any works that we do for salvation is an attempt to "buy" grace, however, grace is unmerited and freely given.
     
  4. Optimax

    Optimax Senior Veteran

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    The only judgement that a Christian (a born again person) is the judgment seat of Christ. That is a judgment to determine rewards, not who gets to enter heaven/kingdom of God.

    1Cor 3:10-15
     
  5. Quoted for agreement and clarity.
     
  6. MrPolo

    MrPolo Woe those who call evil good + good evil. Is 5:20

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    It's important to distinguish those works done by mere humans and those works that have been "graced" because they are done by the branches whose power flows from the vine, Christ.
    John 15:1-5 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.​
    And it goes on how those that don't bear fruit are thrown into the fire, etc...etc... So the above works, graced works that are powered by the Vine, are ordered toward salvation.
     
  7. Hentenza

    Hentenza I will fear no evil for You are with me Supporter

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    Then, based on your interpretation, works that we can boast about are required for salvation. Your interpretation requires the Christian to go beyond their faith and trust in Christ and rely on oneself to attain salvation through works that we do. In your interpretation, grace is earned so is not unmerited. In your interpretation, grace ceases to be grace since works are necessary in order to obtain grace. In your interpretation, grace is purchased by our "good' works.
     
  8. tadoflamb

    tadoflamb poster boy

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    Speaking from experience, I have to agree with you MrPolo. Truly, it's what happens inside the church which motivated me outside the church, and the holy Eucharist was my fuel. I found the two inseperable.

    Also, there's a good reason why God wants us to do good works. Because it's good for us. My time in the vineyard has changed my perspective and has changed me as a person. I guess it's no coincedence that Matthew 25 is the Gospel proclamation this upcoming Sunday.
     
  9. MamaZ

    MamaZ Guest

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    Amen..:thumbsup:
     
  10. Just knowing where this is inevitably going to lead, I would like to point out something key to understanding the Lutheran position (which subsequently became the position of most historic Protestants):

    Lutherans have never said that good works are not necessary. Good works are necessary. In fact, good works are intimately tied to salvation. The question has always been one of the organizational relationship. Is salvation is cause or the result of good works?

    I know, I know, Catholics don't say that good works done outside of grace merit anything. That position was the position of the late medieval nominalists, especially William of Ockham, Gabriel Biel, and Johann Eck, and that position was condemned by the Council of Trent. Their semi-Pelagianism is outright denied by Roman Catholics, and good for them.

    The position affirmed at Trent was the position of earlier and greater semi-Augustinians like Thomas Aquinas (and, oddly enough, one of Luther's other opponents besides Eck, the great Thomist interpreter Thomas Cajetan). The difference lies here: where Ockham and Biel stated that merit performed outside of grace (meritum de congruo) could merit grace, and that grace then would begin one on a Christian walk and imbue further good works with inherit dignity worthy of merit (meritum de condigno), Aquinas and Cajetan (and ultimately Trent) only affirmed the latter, and condemned the former. Thus a person cannot work their way into a state of grace, but because of the grace and faith that they have due to God alone, their subsequent good works can merit further grace due.

    Early Lutheran rhetoric denounced Ockham and Biel; Luther was trained as a nominalist professor and worked within their philosophical categories all his life. The trouble for Catholics who try to pull the "we don't believe that good works save you!" card is that later, thanks in large part to the work of Martin Chemnitz and his four volume review of the Council of Trent, have known this for some time.

    The Lutheran critique of Catholicism is not simply that (as Protestants would unfairly contend) good works save; it is that good works even operate, either for the non-Christian working to find God or the Christian earnestly striving to do the will of God, in the same realm as grace. We simply do not because that good works extend upward to God in the same vertical dimension in which God's grace extends downward to us.

    Lutheran anthropology is distinguished by two spheres, a vertical dimension where we are related to God, and a horizontal dimension in which we are related to other creatures. Luther expressed this in his preface to his Galatians commentary as the "two kinds of righteousness:" a "passive righteousness" in which our right status (= righteousness) is given to us solely by God in the midst of our passivity, and an "active righteousness" in which our right relationship (=righteousness) to other creatures is determined solely on the basis of good works.

    And the one flows from the other. Our fundamental vision of the good, the true, and the beautiful (to use Augustine's way of speaking about our ultimate desire, which ought to be God) and our fundamental source of identity, security, and trust (to use Luther's way of speaking about our ultimate faith, which also ought to be in God), is determined ultimately by God's work in the vertical realm of passive righteousness. Yet when our identity, security, and trust are ultimately shaped by our faith responding in trust to God's grace, and he thus becomes our ultimate vision of the good, the true, and the beautiful, that justifying relationship of grace alone through faith alone becomes the ultimate ground for the good works we do in the horizontal realm on behalf of our fellow creatures.

    What many Protestants and Catholics fail to see is that Luther was absolutely concerned with moral reform in sixteenth century Germany. His project of reformation was at least as inspired by his 1511 visit to Rome and his 1528 visit to the Saxon churches, both of which revealed a depth of human vice and sin which appalled him. But Luther adamantly believed that there could be no moral reformation of the sort sought out my Renaissance humanist reformers like Savonarola or Erasmus without a reshaping of the identity of the Christian upon the unmerited grace of God received in faith.

    So the question becomes not whether good works are necessary for salvation, but whether works can be truly good without salvation. Of course the Catholic Church, in affirming the position of Aquinas and Cajetan against Ockham and Beil at Trent, also affirmed this exact point. But by holding onto the notion of condign merit, good works still would ultimately be a means to meriting an increase in grace, and the identity of the person as an adopted child of God would not be the ultimate source of those works.

    What then? Works that are done out of compulsion to the law or for reward can never be works done solely out of love for one's neighbor. Almost every passage in the gospel of Matthew that Catholics can use to point out the necessity of good works also says that good works done for rewards are not good at all. What we end up with is not people who love their neighbors, but use their neighbors in order to increase their own standing before God. Such a system creates incentives to objectify and instrumentalize their neighbors, rather than loving them for love's sake.

    I'm sure there are others more equipped to argue the case for justification by grace alone through faith alone than me. I enjoy the historical points. But the way I see it, the question is not faith or good works are necessary; it is a system in which grace is not really grace and good works are not really good, or a system in which salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in which the good works we do necessarily flow from the love we have received from Jesus Christ to our neighbors.
     
  11. Hentenza

    Hentenza I will fear no evil for You are with me Supporter

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    I like the historical position also. Well stated.
     
  12. Starlight11

    Starlight11 Geek

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    In my book I spend a couple of chapters tracing out the historical views of the Church on salvation and how those changed over time. I personally found those issues some of the most interesting to research and think about.

    I would caution you against describing Lutheran beliefs as "the historical position", since Lutheran beliefs are (historically speaking) pretty recent, in the sense they have been around only 500 years, in a 2000 year history of Christianity. In my book I label them "modern" or "post-Reformation" teachings, which I contrast to historical Christian teaching which was very different. For the first thousand years of Christian teaching, standard doctrine that an individual final judgment to eternal life or damnation was according to their works. The Athanasian creed, for example, reads: "At [Christ's] coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire."


    GratiaCorpusChristi,
    A big disconnect I have with what you write concerns the notion of "grace". Much recent scholarly research concerning the greek word charis (often mistranslated "grace") has been particularly informative regarding its use in the ancient world. It appears a much better English translation would be "favour" to refer to both doing and receiving favours for people, and also to refer to having someone's favour in the sense of them being pleased with you. The book Paul's language of grace in its Graeco-Roman context by James R. Harrison gives a particularly good analysis, and I cover this topic in my own book. A survey of New Testament usage reveals that the particular "favour" Paul is thinking of when he uses the word is the sending of Jesus to us: God did us a favour by sending Jesus to us to teach us how to live.

    Over the millennia, the Christian theological concept of "grace" has taken on a life of its own, with complex and deep theological usages being developed. Many different ideas of "grace" have been opposed to each other and argued over. The simple problem I see with this is that these whole notions of "grace" are founded upon complete misinterpretations of what the Bible has to say about "favour". In the biblical picture, much of humanity is living wrongly and is thus subject to God's wrath. But out of love, God instead does humanity the favour of sending Jesus to teach people to love one another and live rightly. This leads people who follow Jesus' teachings faithfully to live rightly, and these people will be judged positively as a result. Theological claims and disputes about "grace" therefore strike me as irrelevant and unbiblical, being a result of misunderstanding the Bible on the subject. I find Lutheran theology particularly problematic in this regard, as much of their theology is formulated on their misreading of the meaning of "grace".
     
  13. ivebeenshown

    ivebeenshown Expert invisible poster and thread killer

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    You don't understand what we believe. In other words, you have misinterpreted our interpretation.

    While we believe eternal life is rewarded on the basis of faith and works together (Romans 2, Galatians 6) we believe that those saving works proceeded from God himself, therefore we cannot boast. All of our fruits have only proceeded from the True Vine. We owe everything to Him. We trust in Christ and his Spirit, both given us by the Father, to bring about salvation.

    As Mr. Polo said, "It's important to distinguish those works done by mere humans and those works that have been "graced" because they are done by the branches whose power flows from the vine, Christ." It is important to acknowledge that salvation is entirely dependent on the grace of God, and that we are all ultimately at His mercy.
     
  14. MrPolo

    MrPolo Woe those who call evil good + good evil. Is 5:20

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    That's an incorrect straw man and red herring. I neither said, nor suggested anything of the sort and requires no rebuttal.
     
  15. Standing Up

    Standing Up On and on

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    What's it been called sola faith? Good to see RC agree with the Protestants on this.

    Now to work on the sola scripture.
     
  16. But the fact is, however much the ability to merit an increase of grace (grace the thing given, not grace an increase in favor) is the result of God's grace at the beginning of the process, the Council of Trent still affirms the Thomistic position of meritum de condigno. You just can't deny that.

    And however much you want to call it a strawman, the fact is that all acts of merit, whether congruo (condemned by Trent) or condigno (affirmed by Trent), involve at least a part of the act arising from within the individual.
     
  17. Harry3142

    Harry3142 Regular Member

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    Jesus Christ himself 'slammed the door' on the attitude of some that their works earned them rewards:

    "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' " (The Gospel of St. Luke 17:7-10,NIV)

    The works that we perform on behalf of the furtherance of the kingdom of God are to be seen by us as nothing more than what we should do, and therefore deserving of nothing insofar as a reward is concerned. To think otherwise is comparable to driving on one of our highways while expecting a cop to pull you over in order to reward you for driving safely. Besides which, to perform acts of righteousness in order to receive a reward is to taint the acts themselves with greed and envy, and by so doing turn them into an aberration of what they should be.

    The bottom line is that the words and actions which we are to perform as Christians are words and actions which our own natures will not permit us to perform. So the Spirit of God has to do some fighting in order to subdue our base nature, and then he has to do some re-engineering inside us in order to quite literally create in us a new nature:

    So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

    The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Galatians 5:16-26,NIV)

    There's a saying which goes, "He did all the right things, but for all the wrong reasons." This passage lists those right and wrong reasons. If our words and actions emanate from the 9 'fruit', then we can be assured that they are righteous words and actions, because they originated in those 9 'fruit'. However, if our words and actions emanate from one of the emotions listed as 'acts of the sinful nature', then the words and actions themselves must be seen as evil, because they originated from that part of us that is evil.

    And how do we get the 9 'fruit'? We get them as another gift when we accept the salvation that God offers us. We can't do anything to earn the Spirit's presence within us, but like salvation itself, God's mercy has been demonstrated through his Spirit's accomplishing what we could never accomplish, namely, the 'reining in' of our sinful nature and the implanting in us of a new nature in tune with what God wants of us. So what we do as a result of our becoming Christians must be seen as due directly to what God's Spirit has accomplished, rather than its being due to anything that we might have accomplished independently.
     
  18. ivebeenshown

    ivebeenshown Expert invisible poster and thread killer

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    Aquinas on condignity:

    Man's meritorious work may be considered in two ways: first, as it proceeds from free-will; secondly, as it proceeds from the grace of the Holy Ghost. If it is considered as regards the substance of the work, and inasmuch as it springs from the free-will, there can be no condignity because of the very great inequality. [...]

    If, however, we speak of a meritorious work, inasmuch as it proceeds from the grace of the Holy Ghost moving us to life everlasting, it is meritorious of life everlasting condignly. For thus the value of its merit depends upon the power of the Holy Ghost moving us to life everlasting according to Jn. 4:14: "Shall become in him a fount of water springing up into life everlasting." And the worth of the work depends on the dignity of grace, whereby a man, being made a partaker of the Divine Nature, is adopted as a son of God, to whom the inheritance is due by right of adoption, according to Rm. 8:17: "If sons, heirs also."


    In Catholicism, the works that merit eternal life are those which proceed from the Holy Spirit. Man and his will are associated with and rewarded for these works of grace inasmuch as the man truly performs them, but that the man performs them is due to grace. A branch will only grow as much fruit as the Vine gives it effective nutrients.

    We have to ask ourselves: in John 15, on what basis are the branches kept or cut, if not for the amount of fruit they produce?
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2011
  19. MamaZ

    MamaZ Guest

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    Explain to me what works have to be done to obtain salvation.
     
  20. MrPolo

    MrPolo Woe those who call evil good + good evil. Is 5:20

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    Works of grace and love. If we are members of His body, then surely we don't want to deny the power in His body.
     
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