Saturday, June 20, 2015

Three Examples of How Lutherans Deny Justification by Faith Alone: A Response – Part Two of Two

Rev. Dr. Robert Preus

3) Loss of Salvation: Lutherans do not believe in eternal security. They correctly read the warning passage of Scripture as being addressed to believers, but they incorrectly believe that those warnings concern the possibility of losing our eternal salvation. If Lutherans held consistently to faith alone in Christ alone, they would know that losing our salvation is impossible. The fact that they teach eternal salvation can be lost, shows that Lutherans do not really believe in salvation by faith alone apart from works.

Response


The fact that confessional Lutherans teach that believers can fall away from the faith, while at the same time teaching that God earnestly desires all men to be saved, shows that confessional Lutherans confess what the Bible teaches, even when we cannot reconcile those teachings through the use of our human reason. Holy Scripture most assuredly teaches that God wants all men to be saved:

I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live… [God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth…The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

Holy Scripture also makes it abundantly clear that not all men will be saved. To add another wrinkle, the Bible also teaches that those who are saved are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith (not, as the author repeatedly writes, by “faith alone”). We return once again to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Those who are lost, however, are lost through their own doing. I suppose one could think of it as Salvation by grace, through faith; Damnation by will, through works:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing…You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit (Matthew 23:37; Acts 7:51)!

Luther certainly understood this concept. 

He [Erasmus] argues that there is something in men that responds to the gospel. But this will not do, because even if God shows the gift of his own Son to ungodly men, they don’t respond unless he works within them. Indeed, without the Father’s inward working, men are more likely to persecute his Son rather than follow him (Luther and Pond 1984).

So, there you have it. The Holy Spirit wants to convert all people and bring them to salvation and everlasting life, but many reject the Word and resist the Holy Spirit. They, therefore, remain in unbelief and under Gods’ judgment by their own fault (Concordia Publishing House 1991). God gets the credit for the saving; man gets the blame for the damning.

This very issue comes into play when St. Paul discusses with Timothy the case of Hymenaeus and Alexander.

This charge [Timothy’s duty to order certain teachers not stray from pure doctrinal teaching] I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:18-20).

St. Paul is not saying here that Hymenaeus and Alexander will be judged in the temporal realm, by dying or some such thing, and suffer a loss of reward at the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day, but still march into the New Heavens and New Earth, “as through fire[1].” He is saying that the very thing through which they would be saved, their faith, has been “shipwrecked.” It has been destroyed. The faith, which they once had as members of the Ephesian congregation, is no more. They have passed from life to death, so to speak. 

Hymenaeus and Alexander rejected this precious gift of faith graciously given to them by God the Father, through the Word, by the power of God the Holy Spirit. St. Paul recognized this and disciplined them by, “handing them over to Satan,” or as we would say today – they were excommunicated. They were expelled from the fellowship of the Christian congregation so that they would, “learn not to blaspheme.” In other words, the goal of their excommunication was not punitive punishment, but rather proper exercise of the Law, the function of which is to show men their sin. St. Paul wanted them to be led to repentance and be restored to the faith they previously confessed (Engelbrecht 2009). The beauty of the Gospel is that Christ died even for the sin of Hymenaeus and Alexander. We are not told what happened to them in Scripture. If they repented of their sin God, who is faithful and just, forgave them and cleansed them of all unrighteousness. St. Paul similarly warns the Corinthians not to fall away from their faith into idolatry.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The, “therefore…” at the beginning of the verse indicates that St. Paul just finished explaining some really important concept to the Corinthians. In verses 1-11 his entire point can be summed up in one statement – You shall have no other gods. St. Paul makes the comparison between the people of Israel leaving Egypt and wandering for 40 years in the desert, and the congregation at Corinth. Just as the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” by passing through the water of the Red Sea and coming out a new, free people on the other side, so have the Corinthian believers been baptized into Christ and his death, and are a new creation. St. Paul, however, goes on to explain that, “…with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness[2].” The reason St. Paul gives for God’s displeasure is idolatry. They did not fear, love, and trust in God, who had delivered them, above all things. Rather than repenting of this breach of the First Commandment, they continued in unbelief, and were lost:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:6-11).

It is revealing that St. Paul uses the words “fell” and “destroyed” when describing what happened to those who continued in their unbelief. Again, he is not describing merely a temporal consequence of sin. Scripture tells us that these people, who were graciously delivered from bondage, persisted in unbelief. They resisted the working of God the Holy Spirit and eventually fell from the faith they had been given and were destroyed. Why does St. Paul recount this to the Corinthians? It is to be an example to them so that they do not similarly fall into sin, away from God, and be destroyed. Knowing our hearts as only we can, it may seem impossible for any one of us to remain in the faith. As Christ told his disciples, however, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

It isn’t that Hymenaeus and Alexander, or the Israelites who died in the wilderness, committed the “wrong” sin, or too many sins, and were ultimately rejected by God as the author claims Lutherans teach. Rather, it is that they rejected the faith they had been given, and persisted in unbelief and unrepentance. Luther makes this observation regarding repentance, and in so doing demonstrates just how Law and Gospel work:

When holy people – still having and feeling original sin and daily repenting and striving against it – happen to fall into manifest sins (as David did into adultery, murder, and blasphemy [2 Samuel 11]), then faith and the Holy Spirit have left them. The Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so that it can be carried out, but represses and restrains it from doing what it wants[3]. If sin does what it wants, the Holy Spirit and faith are not present. For St. John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning…and he cannot keep on sinning[4].” And yet it is also true when St. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us[5]…We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world[6]. This is the particular office of the Gospel. Second, through Baptism. Third through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brethren, “Where two or three are gathered[7]” and other such verses, especially Romans 1:12 (McCain, et al. 2005)[8].

Confessing my sin, I say along with the father of the demon-possessed child, “I believe; Help my unbelief[9]!” I know that, even as I now believe in Christ my Savior, I also know that I have been chosen to eternal life out of pure grace in Christ without any merit of my own and that no one can pluck me out of His hand (Concordia Publishing House 1991). When the Devil calls my sin to mind and shows me how unworthy I am to enter into eternal life, I can point to God’s promise which he delivered to me in my baptism and say, “I am baptized.” I can receive the pardon and peace which Christ delivers to me in His Supper when I eat His body and drink His blood which was given and shed for me on the cross, since His body is true food, and His blood is true drink[10]. From these places, the means of God’s grace – Word and Sacrament – come my assurance as a believer and not from any decision I make, or any other work I do. Thanks be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that I am saved by His grace, through faith in Christ Jesus.



Works Cited

Concordia Publishing House. Luther's Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Luther, Martin, and Clifford Pond. Born Slaves. Edited by J. P. Arthur M.A. and H. J. Appleby. London: Grace Publications Trust, 1984.

McCain, Paul Timothy, Robert Cleveland Baker, Gene Edward Veith, and Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, . Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. Translated by William Hermann Theodore Dau and Gerhard Friedrich Bente. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.



End Notes

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:15 
[2] 1 Corinthians 10:5 
[3] Psalm 51:11; Romans 6:14 
[4] 1 John 3:9 
[5] 1 John 1:8 
[6] Luke 24:45-47 
[7] Matthew 18:20 
[8] SA III III 43 - IV 
[9] Mark 9:24 
[10] John 6:55