Gospel of righteousness means justification by works?

It is a pressing issue for some studying the Scriptures that on one hand we are given the message that we are not justified by our works and on the other hand that we must obey the commandments of God and do good works for which we will be judged. How are the two compatible?

The solution to this issue is found in the teaching of deification, which is the key to the gospel message. Deification means union with God which means not only connection with Him but also participating ourselves in the fullness of His life and existence. That is participating in His infinite and eternal life beyond our limited time/space existence. Once this is understood as the promise of God to man we can see why we are called to be perfect as He is perfect and holy as He is holy. That is we are called to live His righteousness which we know and do through obedience to His commandments. However, we also realise that we are unable of our own strength to achieve perfection because we are imperfect, which is why we confess ourselves as sinners. It is impossible for time/space creatures to transcend their condition with its limits and weaknesses by their own strength/energies. Thus, it is impossible to be justified by our works. Obedience to the Law in itself is incapable of saving us. Rather to transcend our condition we must be helped by God, He must give us to share in His energies that we may live as He does. That is we are saved by the grace of God, which sets us free from our limits to participate in His free eternal life. We are not saved by grace to escape from works but to participate in eternal works that transcend our own works. Why does not God just do this for us all and why must we still obey? Because to participate in the life of God means that we must both be unique persons and free. God cannot make us good only of Himself else it would deny our freedom and unique personhood and we would no longer be the ones participating nor would we be living as He lives freely. This is why we must have faith because in this we express our free will to live as God lives. Through faith we own God’s life as our life by obedience and doing His will. This means that we truly share in His life freely of our own will and living His life with Him. He is the only one who is truly free and only by sharing in His freedom, by uniting to His will through obedience, do we also become truly free.

So, deification means that we must live the righteousness of God as our own but our own good works of themselves cannot save us because we cannot transcend our state of life without the grace of God.

25 Responses to Gospel of righteousness means justification by works?

  1. androgen says:

    David,

    Sorry if I am being loose in my explanations. As for the nature thing, natures cannot be morally obedient, only persons can. Also, your explanation seems to tend towards Jesus having one will so I wanted to point out that he had two wills, the faculties belonging to his human nature were not somehow absorbed or abandoned. As for the prayer, it’s an example of his two wills, both natures willing or directing him to a good…there was no moral opposition in his desires.

    Death and sin will be eliminated in the eschaton, yet freewill will not be lost. As I said before, Jesus had freewill yet it was impossible for him to sin. Both examples show that freewill is not what allows for the possibility of sin…you have to look for another source.

    If you have the time you might want to find the answer to the questions in my last paragraph and see how that differs from an EO understanding, it might change the way you understand the original post.

  2. David Lindblom says:

    Androgen,
    You might very well be right, I hope others more knowledgeable will pipe in. Thomas agree w/ my posting.

    I’m struggling to understand your first paragraph. I’ll let that pass for now.

    Again w/ your second paragraph, I’m not entirely getting your point. I’ve not heard or read the nature thing in the way you are describing. The one thing that did catch my attention was:

    “His human nature was not in perfect obedience to his divine nature”

    How is it that Christ’s human nature was not in perfect obedience to His divine nature? Are you thinking in terms of Christ’s prayer in the Garden where He asks for “this cup” to be taken away?

    Concerning your question in your final paragraph, to be honest, I was never sure, as a Protestant, what the answer to that was. I don’t remember anyone dealing w/ this. My thots now would be that human free will would never cease to exist. But sinning after we have been glorified and are in an ever increasing partaking of the divine nature I would think it would be astronomically unlikely.

  3. androgen says:

    David,

    I mean essence or nature in that our natural faculties are directed towards the good but our personal use of those faculties is not fixed towards those goods…we choose to oppose what is natural.

    You still need to work on your Christology and your understanding of what belongs to the person and what belongs to the essence or nature. The divine person can not sin when operating through his human nature because his personal mode of willing is fixed on the good. His human nature was not in perfect obedience to his divine nature, but his divine person was obedient to the directed goods of both natures…there was no opposition between them.

    According to the evangelical view, was Adam in a state that he would always have the possibility to sin? Did he have some means by which he could change his state and no longer be able sin? How you understand this will determine your view of grace, works and merit.

  4. Thomas says:

    I was going to respond to androgen’s last comment, but David Lindblom’s reply — with which I am in complete agreement — said everything I was going to say.

    Perhaps androgen is using nature in a sense other than οὐσία (essence, nature) as David asks, but if so, it would be (to me) a strange usage.

  5. David Lindblom says:

    I wonder if Androgen is talking about nature as in the disposition of a person…their general bent? Not in the sense of essence/nature? Anyone,anyone?

  6. David Lindblom says:

    This should be a good learning experience for me.

    It seems you are talking more about a reformed idea about Christ’s merits than a standard evangelical view. They see it as Christ taking our punishment which allows the Father to forgive us. His need for justice has been taken care of in Christ.

    For the rest I’ll just give my understanding as it sits now. Yes, Jesus had freewill. Could He sin in His humanity? I would have to say yes but in His divinity He could not. Just like in His humanity He could die yet not in His divinity. It’s a paradox. His humanity (His human will) was in perfect obedience to His divinity(His divine will).

    As I see it, nature is always expressed in person. That person will act/work in a way consistent w/ their nature. Not in a deterministic way per se but people act like people and rabbits act like rabbits because that is their nature. As far as being able to sin as a result of the possibility of our natures changing I think that is not correct. That is clearly a Protestant belief ie our nature became that of a sinner. In my understanding of Orthodoxy our natures are fixed. Our nature is still basically good as it was created to be but is mired in the disease of sin. Perhaps you can flesh out what you mean by our natures not being fixed.

  7. androgen says:

    David,

    Protestantism is work (merit) based at the beginning with Adam who failed, then Jesus who’s works are then imputed to the believer so they no longer have to merit salvation for themselves. The whole idea of just asking Jesus into your heart assumes a works or merit based system.

    As for freewill, did Jesus have it?

    If he did, was it possible for him to sin?

    If you say no because his nature was divine, then you are assuming that natures determine personal choices, which is deterministic and not a position a consistent EO would take for then they would have to accept ADS.

    If it was not possible for Him to sin then freewill does not necessitate, or necessarily allow for the possibility of sin. I am not saying that the personal use of the will is excluded in sin, but it is not what allows its possibility.

    What allows the possibility to sin is being a created person who is not fixed in their nature. The divine person was not created and therefore had no need to develop or grow in the habit of righteousness.

  8. David Lindblom says:

    Androgen,
    your comment on how most western Christians still come at salvation from a works based mentality doesn’t jive w/ my former 30 years being a Protestant. If anything it’s the opposite…people just “ask Jesus into their heart” and they’re good to go. Could you flesh this out a bit more?

    You said:

    “I think if an EO doesn’t understand that freewill isn’t what allows for the possibility of sin then they haven’t escaped the western paradigm.”

    This also doesn’t jive w/ my understanding of free will and how it does leave the option open to sin. That is how we are capable of sinning, God has created us w/ free will.

  9. androgen says:

    Joel,

    It’s been so long that I can’t remember the books I had to read in order to finally put it together…there isn’t one that I know of that goes step by step. I do know that one book was on St. Maximus. There was a posted debate that Perry had with an RC guy on the problem of evil that I would recommend above any book. I did a search but I think it’s too old so maybe someone from the site can dig it up and make it available to you. I am not sure if Perry still posts but he would be your best bet coming from a Calvinist background.

  10. Joel Haas says:

    Androgen,

    Can you direct me to some sources that could serve as an introduction or elucidation of this concept that you speak of? I can be reached at:
    joel [dot] haas [at] gmail [dot] com
    I come from a Calvinist Protestant background and surely suffer from this erroneous Western paradigm.

  11. androgen says:

    The concept of being fixed in ones nature helped me more than anything when it came to the EO perspective of grace, works and merit. I think a lot of converts have a hard time with it because they still assume the basic paradigm of a type of covenant of works established with Adam where he merits eternal life. If this paradigm isn’t replaced then everything an EO says just gets mixed in and the distinction is lost, especially when it comes to freewill. I think if an EO doesn’t understand that freewill isn’t what allows for the possibility of sin then they haven’t escaped the western paradigm.

  12. Karen says:

    Thank you, Fr. Patrick.

  13. Joel Haas says:

    Keep in mind that he talks about ‘rediscovering’ things that have in fact never been lost in Orthodox tradition. There would also be stuff to disagree with from an Orthodox perspective, but the Orthodox folk I know who have read his work believe that, with all of this in mind, there is much to learn and benefit from his work.

  14. Joel Haas says:

    His magnum opus is his series ‘Christian Origins and the Question of God,’ of which he is currently at work on the 4th of 6 projected volumes. These are highly technical and academic volumes (but rewarding). The first three are:
    New Testament and the People of God
    Jesus and the Victory of God
    Resurrection of the Son of God

    The forthcoming volume is ‘Paul and the Justice of God,’ due out in 2013.

    ‘Surprised by Hope’ probably resonates most deeply with Orthodox themes (and is a popular version of ‘Resurrection of the Son of God).

    A whole bunch of articles, lectures and sermons on various topics can be found at:
    http://www.ntwrightpage.com

  15. Drew says:

    Joel Haas,

    I’ve never read any Wright. What do you recommend by him?

  16. Joel Haas says:

    It might be a stretch to call Wright a ‘Calvinist,’ in the historical sense of the word. The Calvinists would definitely resent it.

    Please pray for me and my wife Jennifer, and especially for her, as we consider this big step.

  17. David Lindblom says:

    Joel Haas,
    Thank you very much for your answer. I’ve always wondered why he is both still Anglican and a Calvinist. Odd.

    Don’t want to derail this blog I’ll leave it that and by all means come home to the Church!

  18. Joel Haas says:

    Hi guys, I am a Protestant considering the catechumenate, so I don’t have much to add to the discussion of St. Paul, deification and the Fathers – but I wanted to answer David Lindblom’s comment about Wright. I know of at least three people who have entered the Orthodox Church because of the influence of Wright’s thought. One of his best Ph.D. students, Edith Humphrey (now at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), was received into the Orthodox Church a number of years ago. His thought does indeed resonate deeply with that of Orthodoxy (and the Fathers), even if he himself doesn’t intend to push people in this direction. He is probably the only reason that I was open to considering the Orthodox faith. Some themes that resonate in this way are:
    – an emphasis on the cosmc implications of the work of Christ
    – a recognition that the significance of Christ’s death is ultimately found in its defeat of death itself, the ultimate enemy.
    – a recognition of the original ‘priestly’ calling central to the ‘image of God’ that is restored to us via our redemption in Christ
    – a recognition of the utter centrality of the unity of the Church in the apostolic writings
    – a recognition that this unity is centered on the Holy Eucharist
    – a recognition that ecclesiology is a controlling theme in the apostolic writings, including the fact that ‘soteriology’ is more of a ‘communal’ reality than a ‘individual’ one (while still recognizing the importance of the latter)
    – a challenge to the ways that Protestants formulate notions like ‘wrath’ and ‘atonement’ and ‘substitution’
    – a recognition that the story and life of Israel is recapitulated in Christ as ‘the true Israel’

    Anyways. I hope that is helpful to Mr. David Lindblom.

  19. David,

    I don’t mind going off subject a little. I don’t know about the New Perspective nor much about Wright, so I cannot really comment on the Orthodox view. I have heard cultural type arguments being used by Orthodox but I am wary of them because they tend to undermine the gospel and Tradition and I cannot see how they really add anything to what the Fathers have not already said. Usually, “new”, innovative perspectives are not helpful unless they show consistency with what has gone before.

  20. David Lindblom says:

    Fr. Patrick,
    Not trying to get off subject but I’m curious if in your second paragraph of your last post you are referring to the New Perspective on Paul, w/ Wright being the most well known of its adherents? I’ve always wondered what the Orthodox thought of him. I’ve heard once from theologian Fr.Theodore (Ted) G. Stylianopoulos that he considered Wright’s perspective to be the closest to Orthodoxy’s view.

  21. Sam,

    St John Chrysostom’s commentary (c 400AD) on Romans and on these matters seems much in line with this post and he was certainly under no influence of Reformation terms or categories. Although, St John doesn’t mention it as such from my reading his understanding of the whole issue reflects deification as central to his reading of St Paul. According to St John, St Paul means by righteousness what is meant in the post and it is not primarily being part of a covenant people but primarily connected with sin, judgement and salvation. So for St John, St Paul is thinking in terms of theosis when speaking of justification by faith and it is not merely that Orthodox writers have bought into Reformation terms and categories.

    The cultural take on the Torah that you mention does not seem in accord with St Paul nor does the idea seem present in any early or later Fathers. As far as I can see it is a modern construct and of little value in interpreting the Scriptures because it does not reflect the thinking of that time. Jewish culture was formed around the Torah as a religious/worldview commitment. That the Gentiles were not obliged to follow it was about a religious/worldview commitment not about them keeping Gentile cultural customs rather then Jewish cultural customs that are religiously and soteriologically neutral . Acts 15:11 shows that St Peter at least puts the issues of circumcision etc in context of salvation and this context seems consistent with the rest of the council and its decisions at which St Paul was present.

  22. David Lindblom says:

    Sam Kim,
    If I remember right (and correct me if I’m wrong) N.T. Wright’s take on Justification is two fold. One, it answers the question “How do the Gentiles enter into the New Covenant”. Is it by first taking up the Law, some rituals, circumcision and faith? His answer is no, it is by faith.

    This other aspect of Wright’s view is that justification involves vindication of the people of God at the Judgment.

    Is this view similar to yours or no?

  23. Sam Kim says:

    It is appropriate to understand salvation in terms of theosis, but it doesn’t seem like that is what St. Paul is talking about when he writes of justification by faith. Because justification has historically been a western Christian debate, I think Orthodox writers have subtly bought into Reformed or Catholic terms and categories.

    Justification is explained by Protestants as the external “imputation” of the merits of Christ to God’s elect, so that the elect are saved/justified by the merits of Christ alone, and not by any personal merit. Any attempt to “earn salvation” by “good works” is futile. God’s righteousness must be given to man unconditionally. So there is a dichotomy between the “foolish Jews,” who thought they could “earn salvation” through “good works,” that is, by observing the Torah, and the Christians who know that salvation is by grace and faith.

    According to the modern scholarship, much of the above is nonsense, or at least, only half true. The above understanding has more to do with Reformation criticisms of medieval Catholicism (which is, for some reason, conflated by Protestants with first century Judaism) than it does with actual first century Judaism.

    According to the modern scholarship, what St. Paul is criticising is the claim that gentile Christians, to belong to the Church, must become culturally Jewish (must observe works of the Torah), not specifically the claim that one must observe Torah in order to gain heavenly merit. Justification is therefore, according to the modern scholarship, less a soteriological concept an more a ecclesiological concept. (It becomes soteriological when one accepts the Orthodox idea that the Church is salvation.) But being righteous for St. Paul primarily means belonging to the righteous covenant people, originally Israel, now the body of Christ the true Israelite.

  24. David Lindblom says:

    Really good post. This is a subject I’ve struggled to understand while attempting to not view this faith/works thing as I did for 30 years as a Protestant.

    Alexander J. Renault says in his ebook “Reconsidering TULIP” something very similar to what you have written and put it in a rather clever way:

    “To say that someone merited their salvation by freely choosing God makes no sense. They’re simply using their free will for what it was designed to do. That’s like saying birds merit their flight by flapping their wings. No, it’s simply what they were designed to do.” (pg. 57)

    He is here talking about choosing God but it seems, based on your essay, the principle can also be applied to the works issue.

  25. Nick says:

    Awesome explanation of a topic so misunderstood by so many Christians!! AMEN!!

%d bloggers like this: