Justification By Faith, Part 6

Perseverance and Salvation

1 Corinthians 15:2 (NIV)
By this gospel you are saved [sōzesthe; σῴζεσθε], if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:2 (REV)
By which you are being saved [sōzesthe; σῴζεσθε] if you hold on firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you believed it in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:2 (Lamsa Bible)
By which also you are saved [sōzesthe; σῴζεσθε] if you keep in remembrance that very word which I have preached to you, and if your conversion has not been in vain.

The word sōzesthe (σῴζεσθε) can be translated either as “you are saved” or “you are being saved.” Regardless of which one is chosen, Paul does not describe a works-based salvation, as if 1 Corinthians 15:2 said “you are saved as long as you live the gospel.”

Paul doesn’t say “unless you believe in vain”, he says:

1 Corinthians 15:2 (RSV Catholic Edition)
The gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.

Perhaps you could argue that this phrase means…

(1) ‘once believed, but no longer’
(2) ‘never believed’
(3) ‘believed the wrong belief (i.e. in vain; no purpose)’

…but it cannot mean:

(4) ‘believes right now, but didn’t do required works.’

Paul explicitly contrasts those who believe and are being saved with those who do not believe and are not being saved. The former held firm to the message that was heard, while the latter did not (obviously, or else they’d be in the first group). And in case it wasn’t obvious that it was about belief and not works, he reviews the essentials of the message that was heard, believed, and trusted:

1 Corinthians 15:3-6
“Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.”

This conspicuously lacks any mention of our own works.

Recall in Part 3 how in Philippians, Paul isn’t saying that we have to keep working for our salvation, but rather that we “work out” our existing salvation by demonstrating it through our works.

Grammatically, the ambiguous phrase “you have believed in vain” can’t mean ‘believes right now, but didn’t do required works.’ This mixes up word tenses/senses and creates an incoherent argument. One cannot read the text as if it says “Otherwise, you will have believed in vain.”, because it is not a ‘future perfect’, it is ‘aorist indicative active’ (which indicates past action). It makes no sense to say “you will be saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you, unless you are a true believer right now who just didn’t do enough works.”

Just like Jesus did in John 3 (as we discussed in Part 3), Paul is contrasting two things: standing firm (faith is firm confidence) in what you first heard and not standing firm in what you first heard (i.e. believed in vain; no faith). The former are believers, the latter are not. Those who believe and obey are contrasted unbelieving disobedience.

The only question is whether the latter group (1) first believed and then fell away, (2) never truly believed in the first place, or (3) believed the wrong thing (perhaps mistakenly, perhaps intentionally). Paul doesn’t say, and it probably doesn’t matter, since it isn’t (4) believed but didn’t do the required works.

I have been focused on the third part of that sentence (“unless…”), rather than the second part (“if…”) for a reason. One cannot understand the “if…” without understanding the “unless…” precisely because the tense of the verb (“have believed”) is not future perfect (“will have believed”). Consider what happens if you assume that works are required:

“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you, [but if you don’t hold firmly, then] you [will] have believed in vain.”

Due to the tense in the original, that is not a valid interpretation. The third part indicates a single, discrete past action (aorist indicative), not an action that occurred over time, is occurring now, or will occur conditional on the second part. By contrast, the following demonstrates what I am saying:

By this gospel you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you; OR ELSE you have believed in vain.”

It is an either-or and the “if” is a weak conditional, more of a clarifier. Consider this interesting translation:

“…and by which you are being made whole if you hold on firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you believed without giving it due consideration.”

You are saved by holding firmly to the gospel (i.e. you have salvation by grace through faith) or else you had originally in the past believed in vain.

The example translation aside, this is still ambiguous. It allows for the range of understandings that I gave in my previous comment. But it specifically excludes the possibility that believing in vain is a product of not standing firm now or in the future. Whatever else you might say, it means, by logical necessity, that this is not a threat of loss of salvation for not standing firm. If one wants to make that argument, they have to look elsewhere.

But there is another possibility entirely. What if Paul isn’t discussing one’s works at all, but is discussing the validity of the gospel (described in v3-6)? In other words…

…by this gospel you are saved … unless your faith in the gospel itself was in vain because the gospel was false…

…the question is whether or not the gospel is true. Why would we think that? Because of what Paul says a few sentences later:

1 Corinthians 15:13-14
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching has been in vain and your faith is in vain.

What would make your faith be in vain? If Jesus wasn’t actually raised from the dead and the promise of your own resurrection was false: if you believed in a falsehood. This has nothing to do with deeds, but with the validity of faith. It has to do with your justification: you are justified—correct; proved right—in your belief. Why do we stand firm in the faith, in the midst of sufferings and persecutions? Because our faith is not in vain! It is fully justified because it is true. It is a done deal.

1 Corinthians 15:1-2
Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, and by which you are being saved if you hold on firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you believed it in vain.

Paul does not mention works because he is talking only about faith. Faith alone. And standing firm and persevering in that faith—and only that faith—just as Peter also says in 1 Peter 5:9.

1 Peter 5:9
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

1 Peter speaks of suffering (1:6,11; 2:19-23; 3:14,17-18; 4:1,13,15-16,19; 5:1,9,10), trials (1:6), test (4:14), anxiety (5:7), submission (2:13-24,3:1-7), insults (2:23, 4:14), rejection (2:4,7), harm (3:13), fiery ordeal (4:14), and end (4:7).

Perseverance—in a Christian sense—is enduring suffering and persecution for the sake of Christ. By contrast, perseverance—in the Catholic sense—is “remaining in the state of grace until the end of life.” The definition…

Catholic Dictionary — Perseverance
Final perseverance cannot be strictly merited, as though a person had a claim on dying in grace because he or she had been faithful all through life. Nevertheless it can, with unfailing success, be achieved by proper prayer, offered regularly and earnestly, in the state of grace.

Citation:Perseverance.” Catholic Dictionary

…is incoherent double-speak. Peter (obviously) isn’t talking about “remaining in the state of grace until the end of life.” Like Paul, he is talking about maintaining one’s faith throughout trials and tribulations.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching has been in vain and your faith is in vain.

How can one read this, understand it, and then not understand verses 1-2?  These explain that without a valid faith at the time of your conversion—of a real resurrected Christ and a real future resurrection for Christians—one is not and never has been a believer. Notice that what makes a faith valid is not the person who trusts, but the validity of the person in whom trust is placed: Jesus Christ. In other words, faith in Christ is valid because Christ’s promises are true. The quality and quantity of one’s devotion is irrelevant. The quality and quantity of ones deeds is irrelevant. Protestations to the contrary are irrelevant.

Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary

Is that faith sufficient—all alone by itself? That is the crux of the issue.

Since “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” and to attain to the fellowship of his sons, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘But he who endures to the end.’

Is he who endures to the end the one who reaches the end of his life—after suffering and persecution—and still believes? Or is it one who “remains in a state of grace” by “proper prayer” and other deeds?

Salvation and Justification

In Part 5, we showed that justification always refers to one’s faith at the time of their conversion. For a believer, this is always in the past. Even when one will be judicially found justified on the Day of Final Judgment, their freedom will be declared on the basis of the assurance of that earlier faith. Justification is not an ongoing process.

Above we showed from 1 Corinthians 15:2 that salvation (or sanctification, depending on your presupposed theology) is ongoing: we are being saved/sanctified.

In Roman Catholicism, justification and salvation refer to the same work of God:

Catholic Answers
The concepts of salvation and justification refer to the same work that God does within us, but each emphasizes different aspects. [..] In light of these two definitions, we can say that the Catholic understanding of salvation (rescued from sin and its eternal consequences) involves justification (right relationship with God and renewed within) and that justification involves salvation.

Citation: Karlo Broussard, “The Difference Between Salvation and Justification.” Catholic Answers

The Catechism says something similar:

CCC Glossary — Justification
The gracious action of God which frees us from sin and communicates “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (Rom 3:22). Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man (1987-1989)

Citation:Justification.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary

CCC Glossary — Salvation
The forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God, which can be done by God alone (169).

Citation:Salvation.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary

Plainly, according to Roman Catholicism, justification includes both remission of sins and ongoing sanctification. How ironic, then, that in scripture justification is not an ongoing process and salvation is not yet fully completed.

Salvation is sometimes described in the New Testament as being ongoing because even after you are saved through faith—with the instantaneous and complete remission of sin (i.e. justification)—salvation isn’t fully complete until after death and the resurrection into new bodies at the return of Christ. Salvation is, fundamentally, eternal life, because salvation is a removal of the consequences of sin: death. On this side of the grave, we do not yet have eternal life. Salvation requires one to die prior to completion.

But, salvation is also completed—assured—as soon as one believes! This what it means to be justified in your faith.

Roman Catholicism has inverted justification (not ongoing; past) and salvation (ongoing; future).

#1: Justification is not ongoing (see part 5).
#2: Salvation (or sanctification) is ongoing (above)
#3: Salvation is the remission of sin, restoration of relationship, and is by God alone (CCC Glossary)
#4: Justification includes both salvation and sanctification (CCC Glossary)

By #2 and #4, justification must be ongoing because salvation (or sanctification) is ongoing. But by #1, justification is not ongoing. The givens in scripture (#1 and #2) lead to contradiction with the Roman Catholic tradition in the CCC (#4). Similarly, by #1 and #4, salvation and sanctification #3 must not be ongoing, which is a contradiction with scripture (#2).

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