Work on that Faith

The readings for the first Sunday of Lent this year will drop us into Romans rather unceremoniously. We haven’t been in the book at all in year C and all of a sudden, there we are in the middle of the 10th chapter.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

(Romans 10:8-13 ESV)

Confession time. I have been staying out of Romans for a while because of the use of this Epistle by Protestants ever since Luther to try to justify sola fide, “faith alone.” The above passage is a prime text used in such discussions, and yet that is not what I see it proclaim.

“because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

If I harken back to my Introduction to Logic class in undergrad, what I see is this:

If (confess with mouth) and (believe in heart)

then (you are saved)

Both confession and belief need to occur in order for saving to happen. “And” is a conjunction, so both conjuncts must be true for the whole to be true. I really don’t see any other way to interpret the logic of Paul’s assertion.

If we agree on that, then we are compelled to hold that confession is essential to salvation, in addition to belief. That means it is not faith (belief) alone that saves us. In fact, it is even more damaging to sola fide than that. A work <gasp> is required; namely, confession.

This appears to be in agreement with the biblical pattern of faith leading to obedience leading to blessing. I first read this elucidated here, in what proved to be a very interesting series of posts. I agree with the author, Ken Hensley, that Luther misunderstood justification as an event instead of a process. By doing so, he made our obedience secondary, whereas throughout the Old and New Testaments, it is paramount.

Indeed, in the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus speaks of reward eleven times. All of them are in relation to our doing or not doing certain actions. Paul speaks of attaining a reward in 1 Corinthians and Colossians. Perhaps even more troubling is this line from 2 John:

“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.”

(2 John 1:8 ESV)

I say more troubling because it not only undercuts sola fide, it causes significant trouble for another Protestant innovation, eternal security. But I’ll leave that for another day. My point is, I think Luther got it wrong and carried a whole lot of folks with him. We must have obedience or we have no faith.

I don’t see how we can cling to any sort of sola fide position while clinging to an authoritative view of Scripture. The two are mutually incompatible.

“So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

(James 2:17 ESV)


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