“It is for the abundant comfort of the saints that Christ is appointed to be their judge. The
covenant of grace, with all its circumstances, and all those events to which it hath relation, is every
way so contrived of God, as to give strong consolation to believers: for God designed the gospel
for a glorious manifestation of his grace to them; and therefore every thing in it is so ordered, as
to manifest the most grace and mercy.” (Jonathan Edwards, Works, 2, o.542)
I was in conversation with Bubby (a Jew) and Matt at the RoshPinaProject.
I said to Bubby: “If you’ll be anything, it will be a sinner saved by grace. Your Jewishness and mine will not help one tittle.”
Bubby replied: “If you are a Jew, according to Halacha (Jewish law), your “saved by grace” will not help you one tittle either. Sorry to tell you this. You are following a very distorted, pagan belief.
I asked Bubby to explain how “saved by grace” was a pagan concept. Bubby didn’t respond. Instead Matt responded. I paraphrase his response. Matt’s original post can be found here.
The problem, Matt says, is that the Christian concept of “saved” has specific connotations that does not have a clear counterpart in Judaism. According to Matt’s understanding of Christianity, humans are naturally destined for damnation. Judaism, in contrast, Matt says, does not believe that humans are naturally destined for damnation. Reward and punishment are meted out precisely according to works. For Christianity however, there is nothing that man can do to merit his salvation by his actions. His salvation is based on faith. Christian Faith isn’t really considered a “work” or an “action,” which is very strange to me, because in general Judaism considers faith, or more correctly translated, faithfulness, an action in itself.”
(I’ve italicised this section because I would like to examine it closely later on).
For Judaism, Matt continues, this wouldn’t be a terrible problem, because (the work of) “faithfulness” (which Matt regards as synonymous with “faith,”) concurs with Judaism. The Apostle James, says Matt, makes this clear in his “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Man’s actions in general are a pretty good barometer for his faith, that is, (what the Jew would call) his faithfulness. However, the faith to which Christianity refers is in “J-sus” (Matt’s spelling). What faith in J-sus means, Matt asserts, is not only that he died for people’s sins, but that he is basically deity.
Let me summarise in two sentences what Matt has suggested so far:
There is no distinction between “faith and “faithfulness.” Works is synonymous with faith/ faithfulness This is the Jewish view of the relationship between faith/faithfulness and works.
In the Wiktionary, you will find the following seven definitions of faith:
- Mental acceptance of and confidence in a claim as truth without proof supporting the claim.
- (Christian theology) Belief and trust in the Christian God’s promises revealed through Christ in the New Testament.
- A feeling or belief, that something is true, real, or will happen.
- A trust in the intentions or abilities of a person, object, or belief in spite of a lack of knowledge in the person, object, or belief.
- A system of religious belief.
- An obligation of loyalty or fidelity.
- The observance of such an obligation.
Numbers 6 and 7 are what both a Jew and a Christian would describe as faithfulness. In a nutshell, one is obliged to act out one’s faith (1-5) through right(eous) action – based on he commandments of God. So, faith (full of belief) and faithfulness are distinct concepts.
Matt then moves on to “Grace”: He states that salvation by grace is more in line with Calvinist philosophy, which argues that an individual’s faith is a gift given from G-d. Matt has confused the Christian understanding of the relationship between “gift,” “grace,” “faith,” and faithfulness. Let me first present Paul’s explanation of the relationship between “gift,” “grace” and “faith,” which I discussed in “What happened to faith in the Gospel of Grace?” I quote from Ephesians:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:1-9).
“This” is in the neuter form in the Greek,where“this” in the passage refers to grace AND faith; both are a gift.
We (sinners saved by grace) were dead and rotting in our coffins six-feet under. Jesus comes, digs down to the coffin, creaks open the lid, and breathes life into the corpse. He raised us to new Life. We are born again. Faith has come to us. Without seeking but supernaturally, of course. For how can the dead seek anything?
Recall Matt’s view that salvation by grace is more in line with Calvinist philosophy, which, Matt claims, argues that an individual’s faith is a gift given from G-d. We read in Ephesians 2 above that “it is by grace you have been saved.” Matt is absolutely correct that “salvation by grace is more in line with Calvinist” thinking, but not in line with Calvinist “philosophy.” Matt’s term Calvinist “philosophy,” seems to imply that Calvin’s thinking is not scriptural but of his own making. I have shown, however, that Calvin’s view of grace is not “philosophical” but “scriptural, from first to last.
What I find interesting is that Matt has expressed the correct biblical doctrine of faith (and grace) as a gift of God. Here’s the Ephesians, 2:9 again:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
We saw how Calvin read it. Most Protestant Christians read Ephesians, 2:9 in a different way; like this:
God initiates the saving process by giving a person the gift (therefore, unmerited) of grace. With this grace also comes the free “offer” of faith. You can accept or reject the offer. If you accept, Christ raises you from death to a new life. If you reject the offer, he doesn’t open your coffin; he doesn’t breath new life into you. You’re worse than the living dead, than a Zombie; you die twice. The first time, when you died in sin (as described in Ephesians2 above); the second time when you – in your Zombie state rejected Christ. But I am not clear, because if you were dead in the first place, rotting in the coffin of your sin, how did you manage to lift even a finger to accept Christ’s offer of faith? Impossible. Therefore, even a Zombie – the living dead – even the dying dead is better off than than the very dead.
Matt lumps grace with faith and rejects the gift of both, because both grace and faith, for Matt, obfuscates what Judaism as well as Messianic Judaism is all about, namely, “faithfulness.” This, I believe in a misunderstanding. The Old Testament uses the word “faith” only about 4 times and “faithfulness” more than 80 times. The New Testament, in contrast, uses “faith” about 230 times and “faithfulness” about 50 times.
Jews (and Matt) accuse Christianity of placing more emphasis on faith (belief, trust) than on faithfulness (works). Catholics also make this accusation. Here is a typical Catholic view:
“Some non-Catholics teach that all you have to do to achieve salvation is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and your salvation is assured in this life. You only have to make a once in a lifetime commitment and no matter what you do for the rest of your life, you can be certain that you will go to Heaven when you die. Once you do this, it is an impossibility that you will ever lose your salvation. That train of thought, however, is not Biblical, and in reality it is a sin of presumption.
Jesus did not die just so we could sin.”
This is to mix soteriological (salvation) oranges with sanctificational (works leading to holiness) apples. Salvation is distinct from holiness. One is saved through the gift of faith (through the “gracious” love of God). Jesus said those who have faith in Him will have eternal life. The important point is that it is faith that saves you, not works. This doesn’t mean that Jesus (and the Apostles) are saying that works are not important. Works (of love) are the evidence that you do indeed have faith in Jesus. As the Apostle James said, faith without works (faithfulness) is dead. And Paul said that works without faith is of no value. There are two aspects to righteousness. The first: we are made right(eous) with God through faith in Christ; second: we grow in righteousness through our faithfulness (good works). Here are two relevant scriptures on salvation through faith alone:
Acts 16:30-31 – He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.”
Romans 10:9-13 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Matt says later on:
“Now most messianics are pretty averse to Calvinist philosophy (Dr. Michael L Brown is pretty adamant against it). I personally find Calvinist philosophy to be 1) incredibly vile (because it makes G-d appear as a capricious petty tyrant) taking away man’s free will but 2) incredibly refreshing from a perspective of evangelism since I would just tell a Calvinist evangelist that from their perspective they can just look at me as not being elect.”
First, let me comment on Dr Michael Brown’s view: I, as does Matt, hold Michael Brown in high regard; but on this point of how we come to faith, I, with Calvin (and Augustine of Hippo) disagree with him. There is an interesting debate between Michael Brown and James White on the matter. Someone described the debate as “a nice friendly debate with more light than heat.”
Second, Matt’s negative view of “Calvinist philosophy” as “incredibly vile (because it makes G-d appear as a capricious petty tyrant) taking away man’s free will.” Recall the dead man’s rotting bones in his coffin of sin. Such an entity is not free to choose anything, even death.
Third, Matt’s “refreshing” view “from the perspective of evangelism since I would just tell a Calvinist evangelist that from their perspective they can just look at me as not being elect.” Matt may tell a Calvinist evangelist that, but he won’t take your word for it, because when it comes evangelism, no Calvinist evangelist, or any evangelist, or other human being has the foggiest idea who God’s elect is. Some people show great interest in Christ, while others show disdain, even murderous opposition (for example, Paul before his conversion). What we do know is that when someone comes to faith in Christ, it’s because the Father has opened the believers heart to receive that faith. And where is the freedom in all this? It’s not complicated at all – with God’s (free) grace, that is:
31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do the things Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the things your own father does.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
The Children of the Devil
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God”.
Verse 47 is saying that belonging to God causes someone to believe, and NOT that belief in God causes you to belong to God. Jesus makes this cven clearer in John 6:
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36″But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37″All that the Father gives Me will come to [believe in] Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
If we follow the simple grammar and logic of Verses 36 and 37 we see – this is crucial (it’s what the crucifixion is about) – that the giving of the father results in the coming (believing) of those the father has given to the Son. So the giving to the Son causes the coming of the believer, and NOT coming of the believer causes the giving to the Son.
In case the hearer (in John 6) doesn’t get it the first time, Jesus says it again:
39″This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
Just to make very sure (it’s so contrary to anything they or we have ever heard), Jesus says it one more time:
44″No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
The drawing of the Father causes the coming to Jesus.
And finally, I was struck by this statement from Matt:
“What faith in J-sus means, Matt asserts, is not only that he died for people’s sins, but that he is basically deity.”
Matt, has understood Jesus well.