Faith Alone Won’t Help You on Judgment Day

“Sola Fide” is one of the cardinal doctrines if not THE cardinal doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. It is the belief that we are justified by faith alone completely apart from works. Years ago, I came to realize that this doctrine is completely unbiblical. That being said, I have to concede that there is at least one verse in the bible that uses the words “faith alone.”

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. –James 2:24

It is interesting that the one and only time the words “faith alone” appear in the Bible is in the verse that contradicts the faith alone doctrine. Interestingly enough, Martin Luther found this to be a problem as well. So much in fact, that he desired to have the book of James removed from the New Testament. The great founder and hero of the Protestant Reformation not only wanted James removed from the New Testament, but also Hebrews, Jude and Revelation. Most of all though, the Epistle of James. All because James 2:24 completely contradicts his doctrine of justification by faith alone. Here’s the thing… If you have to remove entire books from the Bible (not just a few verses, but entire books!), in order for your doctrine to be biblical, then it is automatically suspect. That would be like cessationists (people who don’t believe the modern day use of tongues, prophecy, miracles, healings, etc.) advocating the removal of the book of Acts and the longer ending of Mark removed from the New Testament. Again, if you have to remove entire books from the Bible in order to justify your doctrine, it probably isn’t biblical.

I am not going to base this entire blog on one verse however. The New Testament gives a few glimpses into the Day of Judgment at the end of the age. These glimpses create some problems for proponents of Sola Fide. The Gospel of Matthew chapter 25 gives us our first glimpse of what it will be like on that day.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” –Matthew 25:31-46

Now I may be jumping to conclusions, but it seems like at least at first glance, the moral of this story could be summarized as, “If you take care of the poor and less fortunate, you’re going to Heaven. If you neglect the poor and less fortunate however, you’re going to Hell.” Well think about it. How would you interpret these words if you were hearing them for the first time? It sounds likes to me, what Jesus is saying is, if you take care of the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, strangers, and prisoners, you will enter Heaven. On the other hand, if you turn a deaf ear or and blind eye to the plight of these “least of these”, you are destined for damnation.

This is really an inescapable conclusion when you factor into the equation that after Jesus pronounces His judgment to both those on His right and His left, He says, “for”. In other words, Jesus was saying, or rather will be saying one day, “This is your reward or punishment, and here is what that reward or punishment is based on; how you have treated people.”

This is where proponents of Sola Fide run into a bit of a problem… Here we have Jesus in His very own words, granting eternal life, on the basis of works, not faith only. For that matter, if we read the passage, faith isn’t even entered into the equation. Jesus gives us another view of Judgment Day as revealed in John’s vision.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. –Revelation 20:11-15

Here we have another instance where scripture declares that on Judgment Day, we will be judged at least in part, according to our works and that the righteous will be granted Eternal Life on the basis of at least in part, of their works. I would like to conclude with one more passage.

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. –Romans 2:6-8

I really think people go out of their way to make the scriptures interpret in such a way that is most comfortable to them or most aligns with their already predetermined theology instead of just letting the scripture speak its plain truth. We can read this passage over and over, it really doesn’t make any difference. What the Apostle Paul is saying here is, God is going to repay each of us according our works, the things we have done. Those of us who have been consistent in continuing to do good, will reap eternal life. For those of us who persist in committing selfish acts of evil however, we will reap the wrath of God.

Feel free to slice these passages however you want, the conclusion is inescapable; our judgment will be at least in part, based on our works in some way shape or form.

Advertisements

Instead of “Sola Scriptura” or Church Tradition, Why Not Both?

We take it for granted that we have the Bible today. In fact, we have multiple Bibles in our pulpits, in our pews, in our homes, and even dozens of translations of the Word of God on our phones! If we have a question about what is right, what is wrong, how we should believe, what God has to say on a certain social issue, we can just grab our nearest Bible and find out. If we want to know what God says about eternity, how to be saved, baptism, marriage, divorce, or proper church order, we can just open our Bible app. We can even ask Google, “What does the Bible say about _______________?” and in seconds we will be shown dozens of Bible verses addressing our question.

Now imagine what it was like to be a Christian living during the first few centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There were no Bibles. Sure, they had the Old Testament, but there were no New Testaments yet. You couldn’t find a Gideon pocket Bible of the New Testament and Psalms, there were no tiny versions of the Gospels you could carry with you if you wanted to know more about the teachings of Jesus. All you had as far as written documents, were some Gospels (much more than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the writings of the apostles, and many other letters and documents that were circulated through the different churches throughout the Roman Empire. Not only that, there were multiple Gnostic Gospels and heretical letters circulating around the Christian world spreading false teaching with any person that would read them.

These were the conditions for the average Christian for nearly 400 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Under these circumstances, how would you as a Christian living back then know the difference between sound doctrine and false teaching? How would you know the difference between truth and error? It’s not like you could just open your Bible and see if what you were hearing or reading lined up with the Word of God. So how would you know what your faith teaches? Well, how did the Christians that lived during the first few centuries know their faith? By adhering to the teachings and traditions that were handed down by the Apostles and their successors. Before anyone declares this to be unbiblical, allow me to point your attention to how the Apostle Paul describes the Church.

If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. -1st Timothy 3:15

The Apostle Paul refers to the church as, “the pillar and foundation of the truth”. Up until the time the canon of scripture (both Old and New Testaments) was completed and approved of, Christian communities relied on the apostles, bishops, and church councils to preserve the faith, protect the purity of Jesus’ teaching, and accurately teach it to the faithful. This is why the doctrine of Sola Scriptura doesn’t make any sense. Using the Bible as the sole authority and rule for faith and conduct wasn’t possible until the fifth century. So what then? Was sola scriptura not a thing until almost four hundred years after Jesus walked the earth? I doubt Protestants would say that such a central teaching to their faith didn’t come into play until after Christians had been already been around for centuries. People often ask, are the teachings of the church based on what is written in the Bible. History shows us that it is actually the opposite. The facts are, what is written in the Bible is based on the teachings of the church.

In addition to this, we are faced with another question; with all those gospels and letters circulating through the churches in the first few centuries, including many Gnostic Gospels and epistles filled with false teaching, who decided what gospels and what epistles made the cut to be the 27 books of the New Testament we have today? The answer is, the Church! Proponents of sola scriptoria are forced to admit that Bible itself was put together and authorized by the Church Councils of the fourth century.

This is not to take anything away from the Holy Spirit. To be clear, it was the Holy Spirit who decided what books went into the New Testament canon and how many. The church councils were simply the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit chose to bring forth the canon, just as the Holy Spirit was the one who chose the words recorded in the scriptures. The pen on men was simply the vehicle He chose to communicate them.

As stated earlier, for the first few centuries after Jesus’ death and resurrection, preserving and protecting the true faith was the responsibility of the bishops and church councils. Part of that responsibility was insuring that the books of the soon to be New Testament canon were indeed Holy Spirit inspired and therefore sacred scripture. The question then for proponents of sola scriptura then is, if the Church served as an authority and rule of faith and conduct for nearly four hundred years, and even served as the authority for approving the canon of scripture, does that still not apply today? If not, at what point, did the Church cease to be that authority and serve as Paul called it, the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1st Timothy 3:15)?

For that matter, if at some point the Church ceased to be the pillar and foundation of the truth, why did it presume to take it up again in order to make new translations of the scriptures (KJV, NIV, etc.)? To be clear, I am not advocating church tradition over sacred scripture. I do not believe it is not either or, I believe it’s both and. I propose that the teaching and traditions passed on by the Church and the Apostle’s successors are just as authoritative as what is written in sacred scripture. In fact, the teachings passed on to us, help guide us and insure that we are interpreting correctly what we are reading in the scriptures. When it comes to the debate of sacred scripture or church tradition, I advocate that it is not either or. It’s both and.

Why I Believe in the “Real Presence” of Christ in Communion

Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, whatever your particular faith tradition may call it, it is one of the most sacred observances for Christians of all denominations around the world. I am concerned however, that many Christians are missing out on the depths of the blessings contained in this wonderful sacrament. One of those blessings being, the “Real Presence”. For quite a few years, I have embraced the doctrine of Real Presence and in this article, would like to share why.

The Real Presence doctrine is a belief that states that the body and blood of Jesus Christ are literally present in the bread and wine during communion. As a result, when Christians receive Holy Communion, they are receiving Christ Himself since He is really present in the communion elements. There are different variations of this belief depending on your faith tradition.

The Roman Catholic Church for example, believes in “transubstantiation” which states that upon being blessed by the priest during mass, the bread and wine are transformed into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus Christ with his soul and divinity also being present in the communion elements. At the other end of the spectrum is a view held by some in the reformed traditions that while the bread and wine are not the literal body and blood of our Lord, but that Jesus is received spiritually when receiving communion.

The faith tradition I was raised in did not believe in any version of the “Real Presence” at all. I was taught that the bread and wine (grape juice) were solely symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus and a call to remember His sacrifice on the cross, nothing more. As I studied the scriptures however, something about that seemed contradictory to what I was reading. Since I am writing an article and not a book, I will not attempt to exegete every scriptural reference to communion. I will only reference two passages.

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

–Matthew 26:26-28

The institution of Holy Communion is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It does not make any difference how you read or study this passage, nowhere does it indicate that Jesus’ word can be paraphrased as, “This is kind of like my body” or, “This is symbolic of or a metaphor for my blood”. No, Jesus states clearly and plainly, “This is my body. The Gospel of John has no such recording. Instead we find this passage.

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. –John 6:51-56

From my perspective, and the perspective of many scholars, I do not see how this passage can be interpreted in any other way other than a reference to the Lord’s Supper. There is nothing in this passage that indicates this is symbolic or metaphor in nature. In fact, if we take the time to read the rest of the chapter, when people question this statement and find it hard to believe, Jesus reinforces his statement.

Not only did I find no scriptural evidence for a “symbolic” perspective on communion, I also found that such a shallow view of the elements of communion seemed to go against what Christians have believed for centuries all the way back to the days of the Apostles. The following is an excerpt from the First Apology of Justin Martyr a Christian Apologist in the second century. He wrote this apology in order to explain to Romans why Christians believed what they believed. He wrote this around 150 A.D a little more than 100 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” – (First Apology, 66)

It can be clearly seen from this letter that the beliefs on communion written about by Justin Martyr is a belief held by all Christians and has been held by them since Jesus. There are other statements written by church fathers through the centuries confirming that the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the communion, was a belief held by the early church.

So why do I believe in the “Real Presence” in Communion? Simply put, because to believe otherwise would be poor exegesis and a flat out rejection of 2,000 years of church history. Although there are different ends of the spectrum when it comes to the “Real Presence”, it is a doctrine held by an overwhelming majority of Christians today. In fact, it was THE view of communion held by ALL Christians for the past 2,000 years up until a couple hundred years ago.

With this being said, opponents of the Real Presence doctrine are forced to concede that the belief of the body and blood of Christ literally being present in the communion elements is not some odd or eccentric view held by only a few Christians, but the standard view in Christianity. To believe otherwise, is departure from standard and sound doctrine. I say this not to isolate or insult those who reject the belief in the Real Presence, but only to dispel the view that those who hold to the belief in the Real Presence are in a strange minority.

For too long I as a pastor have led congregations in the ordinance of communion and thought to myself, “Something is missing… this is not right… I know there is more to this and I am failing as a pastor in leading these people in shallow view of the Lord’s Supper.” I can do that no longer. I invite all believers to search the scriptures and the teachings of the church fathers on communion. In this most sacred sacrament, Jesus is calling you deeper and to so much more. He is calling you not to observe a symbolic ritual. He is calling you to communion, with His very self.