For follow-up discussion and general commentary on the topic. Comments are sorted chronologically.
God is our saviour:)
Your question is “how can I know for sure..?”
God never saves us against our will. In salvation God has ordained that we cooperate with Him. There are two factors that determine if we go to Heaven. Now, I know I just opened a can of worms. This is a discussion that could go on and on. But I am trying to simplify here. Let’s look at the two factors.
1. God’s grace is necessary. Scripture is clear that salvation begins with God’s grace. Whether we are speaking of God sending His Son, Christ’s death and resurrection or even our faith in Christ, it is all a gift of God’s grace. How can you be sure? It will happen if God gives you the grace to get there.
2. Our cooperation is necessary. God gives us the gift of faith, but with our free will we must respond in faith to Christ. This is not just a mental response of acknowledgment of what Christ did, but as the New Testament teaches it is a physical and spiritual response. If we have genuine faith it will result in good works. James, Matthew 25, Jesus various teachings on judgment day and what the critieria is for entering Heaven, Peter reminding us that we are called to holiness, and so on show what faith looks like. But, how much cooperation is necessary to get to Heaven?
The New Testament shows us that it is a lifetime cooperation. The Scriptures speak to the fact that the ones who will be saved are those who ‘remain in the faith’, Col. 1:23. Hebrews 3:12-14 warns believers to not fall away and to not forsake God. It even warns us that we must hold to the faith from the beginning to the end. There are other passages that warn that we must remain in the faith to be saved. How can we be sure to be in Heaven? We must remain in the faith until death.
How do we remain in the faith? In John 15 Jesus refers to Himself as the vine and us being the branches. If we remain in Him then He remains in us. How do we remain in Him? Again, it all starts with God’s grace. So we should pray daily for that grace. But God has given us tools to remain in the faith. He has given us prayer, the scriptures and other brothers and sisters in the church who can encourage us, hold us accountable and teach us. Also, He has given us the Sacraments to keep refocusing us. We need that daily refocusing as the world, the flesh and the Devil are constantly seeking to pull us away.
One last very important point needs to be made. Salvation is not about getting to Heaven. It is about being reconciled to our Creator. Sin separates us from God, but God through the death and resurrection of Christ reconciles us to Himself. Why be reconciled? Because God is about relationship. He desires relationship with us at every moment. So, the real focus of life is to know God and to be with Him. It is not about getting to a place called “Heaven”, rather it is about wanting to be with God Himself Who is in Heaven.
Michael, 1 John 5:13 declares “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” It does not say our believing must also accompany our ‘cooperation’, following of the ‘Sacraments’ etc.
Salvation is gift therefore it cannot be earned or retained through our own efforts (Ephesians 2:8-10).
I am aware of those verses. I encouraged in my comment to read the scriptures and to see what the early Fathers had to say on the matter. One or two verses do not define an entire doctrine. All of scripture needs to be considered. I also remind you that Peter says that no scripture is of private interpretation. The Church has for 2,000 years determined the proper interpretation of scripture and determined that salvation is a journey of cooperation with God that begins with His grace, leads to our faith in Christ and ends in good works.
You focus on verse 9 in Ephesians 2. Please read verse 10 as well. It is impossible to not have good works if you are saved, because salvation is the process by which God recreates us into the image of Christ.
James tells us that we are not justified by faith alone, but also by works. All the judgment day teachings from Jesus show us that we will be allowed entrance into Heaven or cast into Hell based on our works, and if we did the will of the Father. Good works stem from faith in Christ, and true faith always leads to good works which God prepares in advance for us to do.
John wants us to know that we have eternal life. Yes! But how do we know if we have it? Some will say, ‘because I have fatih’. But how do you know you have faith? John says, “because you love your brother”. Faith is not a vague mental assent to God, but a concrete living out of God’s commands in very concrete ways. True faith is the act of cooperating with God.
Michael, there is no contraction when considering all of Scripture with Ephesians 2:8-9, i.e. salvation has always been through faith alone (Romans 4:2-5) and not by works (co-operation is a work). The Bible is our source for biblical truth (2 Timothy 3:16), therefore Christians should be eager to check the interpretations and doctrines of their church (even if they have been around for 2,000 years) with the Scripture (Acts 17:11). Since born again believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, they have a permanent Helper who guides them into all truth so they are able to discern truth from error (John 14:26).
Why is faith without works dead?
“James is not saying that our works make us righteous before God but that real saving faith is demonstrated by good works. Works are not the cause of salvation; works are the evidence of salvation. Faith in Christ always results in good works.”
Sanctification (not salvation) is “…the process by which God recreates us into the image of Christ.”
What is progressive sanctification?
True faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). A believer does not create their own faith in God (Romans 12:3). And if we desire more faith, we are to ask the Lord (Luke 17:5). Jesus is the founder and the perfecter of the believer’s faith (Hebrews 12:2).
As far as salvation being always by faith alone- The idea of faith alone only came in the 1500’s with Martin Luther. Check your history. As I have stated, the Church Fathers who were taught by the Apostles themselves repeatedly stated that salvation was by faith and works. They cannot be divorced from each other. Salvation begins with God’s grace, which leads to faith that ends in good works. None of those elements can be separated. Nowhere in Scripture will you see the words ‘faith alone’, except in James where you see, ‘not by faith alone’.
2 Timothy 3:16 does not state that the Bible is the source of truth. It states that the Bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”, which it is. It is useful to those ends. It clearly says nothing about the Bible being the source of truth. However, I Timothy 3:15 states that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth.
Now about the need to appeal to the Bible for all truth, you will not find Sola Scriptura until Martin Luther came along. The Church has always taught from the very beginning, including Paul in his writings that Scripture and the Traditions handed down by the Apostles constitutes truth.
To continue...Jesus confronts the Pharisees about their belief in Scripture alone. In John 5:39 He confronts them with their belief that they can find eternal life by studying scripture. He states that eternal life is in Him. Yet because of their belief in scripture alone, they missed the point. Jesus is a living Messiah, and He continues His kingdom in a living body. The Church is a fluid, living organism that moves fluidly through history. When Luther came along with the idea of Sola Scriptura it brought stagnation into the church. Suddenly the church became divided because everybody was ignoring history and Sacred tradition and appealing to the Bible alone and individual interpretation.
The Catholic Church is beautiful because it allows for Sacred Scritpure, Sacred tradition from the Apostles, the Sacraments, and it has an authority that has 2,000 years of unified interpretation of Sacred Scripture to draw from. That unity became divided when the Reformers changed to Scripture alone and individual interpretation. Sadly, we are left with thousands of denominations. Yet, the Catholic Church remains unified in it’s one interpretation of scripture deeply tied to the Apostles.
Thank you for this conversation. I enjoy it. I understand where you are coming from as I was a Baptist Pastor for many years, and raised as a Baptist. I speak not from my own opinion of what the Bible says, but what the Church has determined is truth from what is handed down from the Apostles
Michael, the fact that salvation is by faith alone did not originate with Martin Luther because it is the teaching of the Bible (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9-10, Romans 10:13). Martin Luther’s response in the 1,500s was to the Roman Catholic Church because they taught that salvation was by faith and works. To teach salvation is by faith and works is to say Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient which is unbiblical. Titus 3:4-5 states “…He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit”. Our deeds (works) do not save us.
The point from 2 Timothy 3:16 is that “All Scripture is inspired by God” therefore only Scripture is profitable for teaching etc. Any tradition which contradicts Scripture must be rejected by the believer because it is unprofitable.
What does 1 Timothy 3:15 mean when it says that the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth?
“So, in 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul is not referring to “the church” as the source of truth or the creator of truth. He’s saying “the church” is what holds up and holds firm the truth in the world.”
Lastly, just because there are many different denominations today does not mean there isn’t unity within each and every local body of believers. The Bible never said that every local church was to be under the jurisdiction of one earthly church (Colossians 1:17-18).
Again, these verses you use do not say anything about ‘faith alone’. They do talk of faith and as I have said, faith is important in salvation but it leads to good works which God prepared in advance. Matthew 25 states clearly that our assignment to heaven or hell is based on works. Good works come from faith and faith is dead if it does not produce good works. All scritpure must be consider not just a verse here and there.
I Timothy 3:15- instead of just telling you the answer, which I did in the previous comment, I challenge you to read the Church Fathers who were discipled by the Apostles and find what they say about this verse. Look deep into history. The Church does not produce truth, it receives it and protects it.
The reason the Church taught faith and works is because that is what the Apostles handed on to them form the beginning. Read history. Find out what the Apostles taught. Remember, the New Testament was not established for the first 400 years of Church history. Salvation, the process of God making us a new creation in Christ, involves Grace that leads to faith which produces good works.
Yes 2 Timothy says “All Scripture is inspired by God”. Note that it does not say ‘Only’ scripture is inspired by God.
Sacred Tradition does not contradict scripture. The Catholic Church rejects human tradition and anything that contradicts scripture. Sacred tradition can only come from what the Apostles handed on by word of mouth. Scripture is what they put in writing.
Michael, while these verses don’t say by ‘faith alone’ they also don’t say by ‘faith and works’. If works are required, then why don’t these verses say so?
To reiterate salvation results in good works therefore good works does not produce salvation. Salvation is a free gift and is not earned by our good works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
To find out what the Apostles taught, we study their writings in the New Testament. Since their books teach salvation by faith and not by “faith and works”, it is evident their oral teachings also aligned with their writings. The New Testament books were written by the Apostles during the first century therefore this does not mean they did not exist for 400 years because there was no New Testament.
To reiterate, believers (who are the church) are the ones who hold up and hold firm the truth in the world (1 Timothy 3:15). They receive this truth from the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16).
A believer becomes a new creation when they have been born again. Sanctification is a process – not salvation.
2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture” is inspired by God therefore we know the Bible is truth but since we don’t know what else may or may not have been inspired by God, we cannot say the same for sacred tradition.
You say "Sacred tradition can only come from what the Apostles handed on by word of mouth." but there is no biblical evidence this tradition originated with the Apostles or that it was kept from error for several generations before it was written.