Daniel Eads asks some important questions.
Hello, I am new to your website. I have read TRSBU (at least twice), and agree with much of it. I am soundly Baptist in my convictions, but as I am deciding my own understanding of salvation, I am trying to develop a response to Vatican II theology. While I know that your field of study is biblical theology, I wonder if you would be willing to answer a systematic theology question. In what ways would you distinguish your position on justification according to works from the Roman Catholic view of justification (through infused grace, one is given the enablement to do the works necessary to be deserving of a declaration of righteousness in the completely not-yet)? You would obviously disagree in many ways with their theology as a whole, but what are the most important ways that you would contrast your soteriology from its? I think that we would agree that the issue of merit is very serious here (your differentiation between “according to works” and “on the basis of works”). The question arises because much of Protestant reaction to the Church's views of salvation that I have read has been written by men that argue from one of the four positions that you critique in your book (particularly the loss-of-rewards view), and one of the key ways that they distinguish their position from the Roman Catholic’s is their retrospective view of salvation, rather than the prospective view that you advocate. A note of interest in light of this question is Zane Hodge's ministerial background (predominately Catholic evangelism) and its influence on the formulation of his theology.
Also, I am having trouble finding the passage in TRSBU right now but I remember specifically where you wrote that the warnings were “a vital means” to the salvation of our souls. Because of the indefinite article, it made me think that you may see other means to salvation (persecution, trials, or baptism?) that God uses to accomplish the perfection of his saints. If you could tie your response to this second comment back to the first question as well (the Church’s doctrine of the sacraments as the means of saving grace), that would be great. Thanks in advance for commenting.
As I begin to respond, I need to restate the question slightly. The initial question is--"In what ways would you distinguish your position on justification according to works from the Roman Catholic view of justification (through infused grace, one is given the enablement to do the works necessary to be deserving of a declaration of righteousness in the completely not-yet)?" Perhaps I have not adequately expressed my position in earlier entries. My earlier distinction between according to works and on the basis of works concerned judgment rather than justification. Given this, I trust that I do not wrongly assume that this is what was intended in the question. Thus, in lieu of responding to an inquiry about my position on justification according to works I will respond to an inquiry about my position on judgment according to works.
To be sure, justification and judgment are inseparably bound together, as I have argued elsewhere. Yet, as inseparable as they are, the two are distinguishable. Judgment concerns God's great assize, his scrutinizing discrimination of the secrets of human hearts (Romans 2:16). God's judgment will issue a verdict for each one of us, either condemnation or acquittal, reprobation or justification. As I understand Romans 2:6, God will judge each of us in accordance with our deeds. In my estimation, however, this does not mean that God will justify us according to our deeds. As I understand Paul's argument in Romans 2, it seems to me that the apostle is speaking of whom God will justify not of the basis of justification or even how we will be justified. Whom God will justify is at the core of what Paul is saying when he affirms, "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified" (Romans 2:13).
Now to return to the question about distinguishing my position from the Roman Catholic position. Given my comments above, I believe that the RC view of justification is misguided in that it confuses the biblical imagery of the courtroom with other biblical imageries. Indeed, there is such a thing as infused grace, but infused grace is not properly identified with forensic imagery of justification. Nowhere does the New Testament represent believers as deserving of God's final verdict of justification in the Last Day. On the contrary, Jesus teaches us to take the posture of undeserving servants who, when we obey, do what is commanded of us (cf. Luke 17:7-10).
I am grieved over Protestants who stand apart from the RC view by rejecting the future aspect of justification, as though to hold to the future aspect of justification implicates one as secretly embracing notions that we merit grace by our deeds. It is lamentable that too many Protestants have forged their formulations concerning justification from an anti-Roman Catholic hermeneutic that virtually nullifies a large number of biblical passages that compel us to acknowledge readily that justification is fundamentally eschatological in that justification fundamentally concerns God's Last Day judgment. See for example Matthew 12:36-37.
Your instincts are correct concerning our use of the indefinite article instead of talking about warnings and admonitions as the means of salvation. God employs numerous means to bring about our salvation. Persecutions, tribulations, trials, sufferings, the proclamation of the gospel, friendships, familial relationships, the Lord's Table, baptism, etc., etc. are all means that our God employs to bring us to salvation that is nearer now than when we first believed. Baptism is a means of God's grace as is the Lord's Table. By saying this, I most assuredly do not mean that baptism or the Lord's Table function ex opere operato, effectually conferring grace. To say that baptism and the Lord's Table are indispensable means of God's grace for us is not to say that baptism and the Lord's Table effectually confer God's grace. Unfortunately, much of Protestant theology makes the same mistake Roman Catholic theology makes in reasoning that if these are indispensable then they are effectual. Thus, lamentably, too many Protestants virtually denegrate baptism and the Lord's Table because they overreact against Roman Catholic theology.