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May 18, 2008 / vivator

Augustine on Faith Alone

Does faith alone save or is it to be accompanied by works of love (in other word it is not alone)?  Catholics believe in the latter and even will say that our good works also come and are only possible with God’s Grace that first moves us to do so.  How about Protestants? Despite their adherence to faith alone principle laid down by the sixteenth century Reformers, (some) Protestants and “Bible only” Christians believe that faith that saves must be accompanied by works of love or must bear fruit – otherwise it is a false faith. Regarding this issue Augustine who lived almost sixteenth centuries ago wrote (English translation from Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers or NPNF Series 1 Volume 3, available online at www.ccel.org):

It is believed, moreover, by some, that men who do not abandon the name of Christ, and who have been baptized in the Church by His baptism, and who have never been cut off from the Church by any schism or heresy, though they should live in the grossest sin and never either wash it away in penitence nor redeem it by almsgiving, but persevere in it persistently to the last day of their lives, shall be saved by fire; that is, that although they shall suffer a punishment by fire, lasting for a time proportionate to the magnitude of their crimes and misdeeds, they shall not be punished with everlasting fire. But those who believe this, and yet are Catholics, seem to me to be led astray by a kind of benevolent feeling natural to humanity. For Holy Scripture, when consulted, gives a very different answer. I have written a book on this subject, entitled Of Faith and Works, in which, to the best of my ability, God assisting me, I have shown from Scripture, that the faith which saves us is that which the Apostle Paul clearly enough describes when he says: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.” [Galatians 5:6] But if it worketh evil, and not good, then without doubt, as the Apostle James says, “it is dead, being alone.” [James 2:17] The same apostle says again, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” [James 2:14] And further, if a wicked man shall be saved by fire on account of his faith alone, and if this is what the blessed Apostle Paul means when he says, “But he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire;” [1 Corinthians 3:15] then faith without works can save a man, and what his fellow-apostle James says must be false. And that must be false which Paul himself says in another place: “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners; shall inherit the kingdom of God.” [1 Corinthians 6:9-10] For if those who persevere in these wicked courses shall nevertheless be saved on account of their faith in Christ, how can it be true that they shall not inherit the kingdom of God?

Augustine, The Enchiridion 67

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  1. UnionIEEE / Mar 8 2015 7:26 pm

    Augustine, like modern Protestants, does not affirm that nominal faith saves. Real faith produces works, but works are not the basis of salvation. Whether Augustine affirms my second statement in full, I actually do not believe. Augustine did adhere to the need to do good works in order to mitigate the effects of post-baptismal sins. However, I do not think he affirmed that these works were apart from faith. They could have merely been the means God uses to bring about forgiveness for the believer.

    • vivator / Mar 10 2015 9:20 pm

      Modern Protestants are divided in this issue. Some, like you, will say true faith must produce good works as its fruit – otherwise it is false and non-saving faith. Other will say that as long as you believe in Christ as Lord and personal saviour then you are guaranteed heaven even if there is hardly any or little change within you.

      • UnionIEEE / Mar 11 2015 4:39 am

        True. The Scripture warns of itching ears. I suppose as a Protestant who unashamedly defends the necessity of works to complete faith, I do think it is dangerous to presume that good works are the chief means in which we mitigate the effect of sins. Faith in Christ accomplishes this. The Scripture does talk about repentance covering a multitude of sin (James 5:20), but Acts 2:38 reaffirms how repentance and faith in Christ bring about forgiveness of sins. So I do not think you can split the two. Because of this, whee there is faith, there is assurance of forgiveness (as long as the faith is of course real.)

      • vivator / Mar 11 2015 6:31 pm

        So you are saying as long as you have real faith in Christ whatever sin you commit, including future sins, will be forgiven. First, this will make you belong to those who believe as long as have real/true faith in Christ you will be guaranteed heaven, regardless how little life change you have. Second, If that is the case then why did Christ give the authority to forgive sin to His apostles in John 20:22-23? Third, you trim Acts 2:38 by cutting the word “be baptized” to make it in-line with your belief.

  2. UnionIEEE / Mar 11 2015 7:40 pm

    “So you are saying as long as you have real faith in Christ whatever sin you commit, including future sins, will be forgiven.”
    Yes. Christ died “having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:28) “for all time” (1 Peter 3:18). Those in Christ, therefore, have forgiveness even if they war against the flesh. When they do works that “cover a multitude of sins” these are not done apart from Christ, so the forgiveness is always through His work on the cross.

    “First, this will make you belong to those who believe as long as have real/true faith in Christ you will be guaranteed heaven, regardless how little life change you have.”
    No, because their faith would not be real. If life is cut short, like the thief on the cross, we might not have the opportunity to see the faith “by what I do” as James says. But in most circumstances, people live long enough where this is not the case.

    “Second, If that is the case then why did Christ give the authority to forgive sin to His apostles in John 20:22-23?”
    And to Peter. Our forgiveness of sins only from our membership in the Church, which is the body of Christ. God has ordained the Church with the authority to discipline, and excommunication is serious in its ramifications as the Holy Spirit is with His Church and apart from His Church there isn’t salvation. See Eph 5:31-32.

    “Third, you trim Acts 2:38 by cutting the word “be baptized” to make it in-line with your belief.”

    Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for [eis] the forgiveness [aphesin] of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

    The word for is the Greek word “eis” that generally means into. If we look at Matt 3:11 John the Baptist says, “As for me, I baptize you with water for [eis] repentance [metanoian].”

    The baptismal regeneration viewpoint applies the Greek inconsistently. The word “for” has different meanings. If we are baptized so that we may receive forgiveness contingent upon the baptism, then we must also say the John the baptist was baptizing people so that they may receive repentance, contingent upon their baptism.

    However, we know that the latter is incorrect, because the repentance occurred before John would baptize. In effect, John’s baptism was a ritual cleansing that initiated one into his sect (as he had disciples.)

    In the same way, “baptism now saves” us, not by the literal “removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). It is the appeal that is the actual “baptism” that saves, not the water. The appeal is only possible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ resurrecting the one dead in his sins into one who has spiritual life. In short, the baptism of the Holy Spirit saves. John baptizes with water, Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

    Hence, the literal baptism itself is an outward manifestation of an already present spiritual reality. This is obviously true of John’s “baptism into [eis] repentance” and the same of Christianity’s “baptism into [eis] forgiveness of sins.”

    The fact that the early Church actually taught “baptism by blood” and “baptism by desire,” as do modern Catholics, concedes that this at least sometimes is true.

    Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. Book V, Sec I, Paragraph 6: “But let him who is vouchsafed the honour of martyrdom rejoice with joy in the Lord, as obtaining thereby so great a crown, and departing out of this life by his confession. Nay, though he be trot a catechumen, let him depart without trouble; for his suffering for Christ will be to him a more genuine baptism, because he does really die with Christ, but the rest only in a figure.”

    St. Siricius, Letter to Himerius: If those threatened with shipwreck, or the attack of enemies, or the uncertainties of a siege, or those put in a hopeless condition due to some bodily sickness, ask for what in their faith is their only help, let them receive at the very moment of their request the reward of regeneration they beg for. Enough of past mistakes! From now on, let all the priests observe the aforesaid rule if they do not want to be separated from the solid apostolic rock on which Christ has built his universal Church.”

    St. Ambrose, De obitu Valentiniani consolatio: “But I hear that you are distressed because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me, what attribute do we have besides our will, our intention? Yet, a short time ago he had this desire that before he came to Italy he should be initiated [baptized], and he indicated that he wanted to be baptized as soon as possible by myself. Did he not, therefore, have that grace which he desired? Did he not have what he asked for? Undoubtedly because he asked for it he received it.”

    Augustine, City of God, Book XIII, Chapter 7: “Of the Death Which the Unbaptized Suffer for the Confession of Christ: For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism. For He who said, “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” John 3:5 made also an exception in their favor, in that other sentence where He no less absolutely said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven;” Matthew 10:32 and in another place, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it.” Matthew 16:25

    • vivator / Mar 24 2015 6:01 pm

      Based on what you wrote I conclude that according to you:
      1. If you have true faith in Christ then whatever sins you commit will be forgiven
      2. If you don’t have life change after becoming a believer then your faith is not real (or fake)
      My question for you is how do you know whether a person belong to no. 1 or to no. 2? There should be certain amount (or frequency) of sins – if you commit less than this number then you belong to no. 1, if more then you belong to no. 2.
      John 20:22-23 talks about the authority to forgive and to retain sin, not the authority to discipline and to excommunicate, as according to you. Eph 5:31-32 has nothing to do with what you wrote.
      You confusion with Greek word eis in Matthew 3:11 can be easily solved. Just look at parallel verses in Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3, both says “baptism of repentance for (Greek eis) the forgiveness of sins”.
      In 1 Peter 3:21 the subject corresponds to the verb “save” is baptism. Why you try to change the subject to meet your belief? Baptism is not removal of dirt – it is not equivalent to taking a bath or shower. It is God who saves us through the water of Baptism – the water itself has no power to save, neither does the person who performs Baptism.

    • UnionIEEE / Mar 26 2015 7:17 pm

      “1. If you have true faith in Christ then whatever sins you commit will be forgiven”

      Yes, I will concede that.

      “2. If you don’t have life change after becoming a believer then your faith is not real (or fake)”

      Definitely. Christians are “new creations.”

      “My question for you is how do you know whether a person belong to no. 1 or to no. 2?”

      I’m not here to offer anyone assurance. My assurance comes from God’s promises and His “word” is not rescinded like a man’s. I am really not trying to “cop out” or anything, but apart from the promises of God there is no assurance. Buddhists don’t know what their karma really is. Muslims don’t know if they have done enough good works. Catholics can be unaware of unconfessed sins, or not cognizant of the fact that the moment they receive absolution, they probably stumbled upon some other sin again.

      So, no system offers man assurance. But, I take God at His word and that’s my assurance. Whether or not I, you, or anyone else is delusional is known only by God and perceived by others with lesser accuracy.

      “John 20:22-23 talks about the authority to forgive and to retain sin, not the authority to discipline and to excommunicate, as according to you”.

      How is discipline and withholding communion not the retaining of sin, and the bringing back of repentant people the forgiving of sin? Do you simply not like this explanation or is there something specifically inaccurate about it?

      “Eph 5:31-32 has nothing to do with what you wrote.” This merits explanation, because it says the Church is one flesh with Christ. If this is the case, then how are the members of the Church judged not according to Christ?

      “You confusion with Greek word eis in Matthew 3:11 can be easily solved. Just look at parallel verses in Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3, both says “baptism of repentance for (Greek eis) the forgiveness of sins.”

      I do not think there is confusion on my part. I respect you and appreciate your time, so with love I point out, your interpretation cannot work. Did John’s baptism actually forgive sins? Or did the repentance that he was calling men into? Answer the question, and you have your answer.

      “In 1 Peter 3:21 the subject corresponds to the verb “save” is baptism. Why you try to change the subject to meet your belief?”

      I really am not trying to. Honestly, I have read that verse, and read the ECF, and if you take the verse at face value it makes clear that water baptism is not the subject specifically being discussed. Read the verse, it is the appeal to God that saves. If it weren’t, we would be forced to believe if we baptize people against their will and then shoot them in the head, they are guaranteed instant heaven.

      “It is God who saves us through the water of Baptism – the water itself has no power to save, neither does the person who performs Baptism.”

      True. And water is not at all times necessary, for the Spirit is not impotent and incapable of saving the plethora of martyrs who died as catechumens, the thief on the cross, and etcetera. I have shown this by both the Scripture and writings of the early church. The RCC does not teach that baptism is an absolute necessity for salvation. And, if this is true, that means the Spirit has regenerated men apart from water baptism.

      • vivator / Apr 12 2015 11:57 am

        To answer your charge “Catholics can be unaware of unconfessed sins, or not cognizant of the fact that the moment they receive absolution, they probably stumbled upon some other sin again.” Catholics can still receive forgiveness through sacrament of reconciliation for past sins they TRULY cannot remember – they just simply tell the priest they don’t remember them. Partaking sacrament of reconciliation does not mean a person will NOT sin again, whether the same sin or not – in fact they do and will do. What they need is to repent again and obtain forgiveness through sacrament of reconciliation again.
        You wrote “My assurance comes from God’s promises”. Can you elaborate it, considering you believe whatever and how many sin you commit you will be always forgiven through your true faith in Christ? The fact that you cannot define the cut-off point between (1) and (2) shows that your belief in the relation between true faith in Christ and forgiveness of sin is not scriptural.
        In John 20:22-23 the Greek words simply means to forgive sin (or to let go sin). You may compare with the same words appear in Luke 5:21, 24 etc. What you did is simply tuning John 20:22-23 to mean something that match your belief.
        You wrote “it [Eph 5:31-32] says the Church is one flesh with Christ. If this is the case, then how are the members of the Church judged not according to Christ?” Do you understand “being judged according to Christ” means you, as true believer in Christ, will NOT be judged for whatever sin you commit, regardless how many they are?
        You raised a question: “Did John’s baptism actually forgive sins? Or did the repentance that he was calling men into?” Read again Mark 1:4 and Luke 3:3, both say “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Isn’t that clear enough? Those two verses do not contradict Mat 3:11 – no one can get receive forgiveness without first repenting. There is no such thing in Scripture as “auto forgiveness”.
        Regarding 1 Peter 3:21, if the appeal to God that saves, then the subject of the sentence would not be baptism. It seems to me you have no understanding of sacramental concept. The Reformers still values it, though they dropped the number from seven to two (Luther in the beginning recognized three but later changed his mind). God can channel His grace through water of Baptism and that is sacramental concept.
        To answer your rhetorical statement: “if we baptize people against their will and then shoot them in the head, they are guaranteed instant heaven”. Catholics believe Baptism cleanses us from original sin and personal sin and their punishment. If a person dies after Baptism for whatever reason, naturally or being shot dead then he/she will go to heaven. I will return the same rhetorical statement to you. If you shoot dead a person after he/she expressed their true faith in Christ (or become born again, in your terminology), I am sure you believe he/she will go straight to heaven. You do him/her a great favor! At the same time you don’t lose your salvation because, according to you, your true faith in Christ will provide forgiveness (though you may spend some time in jail for sure). Since you don’t set maximum number you can do it then you can do it as many as you like – it is indeed a win–win situation, you send them straight to heaven and you still have assurance of your salvation.
        Finally to explain what the Catholic Church teaches regarding Baptism. The Church does teach Baptism is necessary for salvation for those who hear the Gospel and have chance to take it (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1257). Those who died as martyrs, catechumens, thief on the cross
        (Luke 23:42-43) etc. will go to heaven because it is NOT their fault they cannot receive

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