The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Comparing Jesus and Paul

Here is an attached pdf of my original paper that can be downloaded as an option to the audio and scripts that follow:

Comparing Jesus & Paul on Salvation.doc (49.5 KB)

[size=150]Can Paul & Jesus’ Teaching on how to be assured of Eternal Life be Harmonized?[/size]
Audio recordings: (files are 10-30 mb - may take a few minutes to download) … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3 … vation.mp3

**Question: Is Salvation by grace through faith, or does it require an obedient life of doing righteousness? **

PAUL: Believing in Jesus’ (death & resurrection) provides assurance by faith of our justification, and of eternal life as a free gift. “A person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus… This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… the righteous will live by faith.” (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:22; 1:17)

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

“I count everything a loss… that I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from
the Law, but that which is thru faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil. 3:8-11; cf. 1:11)

JESUS: Obey God’s law (of love), follow Christ’s teaching, renounce everything, and carry your own cross, or else you cannot be his follower or enter eternal life.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life? ‘What is written in God’s law… do this and you will live”
“Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 10:25-28; 14:27,33)

“To enter eternal life, keep God’s commandments!… I do not abolish God’s law… Unless your righteousness surpasses the teachers of the law, you will not enter the kingdom… Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down… Only those who do the will of my Father will enter the kingdom of heaven… You must deny yourself & take up your cross daily… God will reward all according to what they have done.” (Mt. 19:16f; 5:17-7:19,21; 16:24,27)

ALTERNATIVE VIEWS: How Jesus and Paul’s Teachings on Salvation are Related

Do they essentially differ, or only in emphasis and vocabulary? Can they be combined?
1. Dispensational Theology: Jesus taught the way of Old Testament Law for Jews (not Christians).
But for Christians, Paul’s Good News replaced Jesus’ approach with salvation by faith alone.
2. Luther & Reformation: Jesus’ focus on God’s law was only to help us welcome Paul’s way of grace.
Jesus insisted on obedience, more righteousness, & cross-bearing, so we’d realize we can’t do those.
Then we’d see: Our only hope is to reject Jesus’ literal requirements, & accept Paul’s belief in grace.
3. Different Goals: Paul explains salvation (we escape hell by just believing)! Jesus is only explaining
growth in discipleship which requires dying to self, but this option is unessential for salvation.

Solutions 1, 2 or 3 diminish Jesus’ approach in favor of Paul’s language. And the Bible itself does not appear to spell out the basic inferences that they assert. But approaches 1-3 are the most popular ones. For they find that endorsing Paul’s Gospel requires recognizing that Jesus’ teaching conflicts with that.

They interpret Paul to mean that Jesus enabled God to be ‘just,’ by bearing our sin’s punishment in our place. He purchases a ‘righteousness’ which allows canceling the consequences our own sins deserve, if we just affirm by faith that Jesus’ atonement credits such an ‘imputed’ righteousness to our account. Thus, while obedience and a righteous life remain desirable, believing the cross provided such “grace,” is alone sufficient to secure the destiny that truly matters: heaven, instead of hell’s endless punishment!

But, Dallas Willard’s keen observation that “Jesus is the smartest person who ever lived” can leave one hesitant to think Paul’s insight into God’s way supercedes that of Jesus. Thus we ask in a closer look: Can we reconcile and affirm both Paul and Jesus’ message? Is there a way to see them as compatible?

4. BASIC AGREEMENT: Some Examples that Paul & Jesus affirm the Same Essentials!
A. God’s saving kingdom and eternal life are unearned gifts of ‘grace’ that rest on God’s mercy.

Jesus also affirms the “Good News” that “your Father is pleased to give you His kingdom,” which we “receive like a child” receives a gift (Lk. 8:1; 12:32; 18:17; 6:20). His God is “merciful” to the “wicked.” He “forgives sins,” bringing “salvation through forgiveness, because of God’s tender mercy” (6:35f; 1:77f; 5:20f; 23:34; 11:13). “I will draw all persons to my self” (Jn. 12:32; Cf 21:11; 6:29,40; 7:38f; 12:44-46; 14:12).

B. Faith (in God’s provision) is central and crucial to experiencing what God intends for our lives.
Jesus too says, “Have faith in God… Repent & believe in the Good News…According to your faith, let it be done to you” (Mk. 1:15; 11:22; Mt. 9:29). “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you.” The devil keeps us from “believing & being saved… I’ve prayed that your faith may not fail” (Lk. 7:48-50; 8:12; 22:32). “Whoever hears my word & believes Him who sent me has eternal life… God’s ‘work’ is to believe” (Jn. 5:24)

C. Sin’s power and deception makes us unable to please God, or to fulfill the purpose of God’s law (unless by faith we receive the enabling gift of His Spirit).

“Everyone is a slave to sin.” We are all by nature “slaves to sin” (cf. Jn. 8:34 & Rom. 6:16f; 3:9f; 7:5,17-20; 8:5-8). Satan “blinds the minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Thes. 2:10f). “Though seeing, they do not see” (Mt. 13:13).

D. Still, repentance and conquering the way of sin and self is essential to participate in salvation.

Paul agrees: “Repentance leads to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10; cf. Rom 2:4; Lk. 5:32; 13:5; 24:47; Acts 3:19; 5:31; 11:18!). “You’re slaves to what you obey, whether sin which leads to death, or obedience that leads to righteousness.” So “freed from sin as slaves of God, the benefit you reap is holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Rom. 6:16,22; 8:13)!

E. So, pursuing the way of sin jeopardizes our salvation, despite any profession of faith we may make.

Paul agreed: “Wrong doers (even the “greedy”) will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9; Cf. Matt. 7:21-23). He warns, “I make my body a slave so that… I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27; 15:3; Rom. 11:22; 1 Tim. 4:7f; 2 Tim. 4:7f; Heb. 10:26-31; 3:18f).

F. So, obedience to God’s law, fulfilling its’ central purpose in our lives, is essential to our salvation.

Paul agreed: “Keeping God’s commands is what counts…we uphold the law… It is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” For God sent His Son “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature” (1 Cor. 7:19; Rom. 3:31; 2:13,26; 8:4; Cf. Mt. 19:16f).

G. Paul & Jesus do see the outward letter or “works” of Mosaic Law are not required, can’t justify us, nor produce real righteousness. Nor can this simply result from our own efforts (Eph. 2:8f; Rom. 10:3).

“No one is justified in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Rom. 3:20; 2:25f; 14:14; Gal. 2:16; 4:10; 5:1f; Col 2:16). “Jesus declared all foods clean… On the sabbath… my Father works & I too am working” (Mk. 7:19; 3:4; Jn. 5:17f).

H. For like Jesus, Paul sees that the obedience that God’s law requires is defined by a life of love.

“Love is the fulfillment of the law… For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Rom. 13:9f; Gal. 5:14). “All the Law and Prophets hang on this” (Matt. 22:40). Love is the law we are under, and the “work produced by faith” (1 Cor. 9:20f; Gal. 6:2; 5:6; 1 Thes. 1:3; 2 Thes. 1:11).

I. Thus, pursuing a godly life can not be optional, and a simply imputed righteousness will not do. Indeed, for everyone, the standard for salvation on Judgment Day will be the works we have done.

Jesus and Paul say: “People reap what they sow… Everyone will receive what is due them for the things done, whether good or bad… God will repay everyone according to what they have done… To those who persist in doing good… He’ll give eternal life” (Gal. 6:7f; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:6f; Cf. Jesus: Mt. 25:34-46; Mk. 9:43-49; Lk 6:38)!

TWO OBJECTIONS to accepting that Paul and Jesus Agree on what is necessary for Salvation

1. Our Need for Assurance that we’ll be saved: Knowing our salvation is certain requires that it only depends upon a profession of faith. If we accepted Jesus’ claim that an obedient life is also necessary, we could remain anxious that our life & righteous works might be found insufficient on Judgment Day.

Response: No tradition guarantees immunity from God’s judgments in this world or the next. The Reformers saw that unfruitful disobedience could mean that we were never really saved or chosen. And Arminians knew that a wicked life can signify that we have lost our salvation, since it depends on our choices to remain in Christ.

  1. Grace Alone: If anything’s required beyond believing, then salvation can’t be a gift resting on grace.

Response: The problem is that Jesus and Paul repeatedly require not simply believing that Jesus died for us, but repentance, holiness, obedience and perseverance! Yet, salvation can rest on God’s grace, if it does not depend ultimately on our ability and performance. For it is God whose gracious character and love will faithfully pursue us (with mercy and judgment) until God brings us to the obedience required to be saved.


  1. What salvation does not mean is clear. Like Jesus, Paul “knew (what was in) all people:” a blind and sinful egotistic nature (Jn. 2:24; see ‘C’ above). Thus, the solution can not be “works” that “depend on human will or effort,” nor “a righteousness of my own.” Rather, salvation comes as a “provision of grace” that is a “gift” of God’s mercy” (Rom. 11:6, 30-32; 9:16; 10:3; 5:17; Phil. 3:9).
    Trying to justify ourselves & be righteous by our own efforts to keep Judaism’s literal laws means that we nullify God’s grace as we reject his provisions that enable us to be righteous as we respond in faith (Gal. 2:21-3:6,14; 5:4,18,22). For in Romans 9:30-10:13, the righteousness God’s law seeks is “attained” (30f) by those who “call on God” (i.e. “by faith:” 12), not by our own efforts at legalistic ‘works’ (4,32).
    Yet, for Paul too, we remain under God’s law, which means following the “law of Christ” that consists of love (1 Cor. 9:20f; Gal. 6:2; cf. F & H above). Thus, such a “righteousness” requires repentance and a life opposed to sin. So it can not mean that those who remain disobedient rebels can be simply acquitted by being credited with an ‘imputed’ righteousness (Rom. 6:13-19; 1 Thes. 4:8; 2 Cor. 7:10; Acts 11:18; cf. D & E).

  2. Paul’s “righteousness that comes by faith” may thus mean a reality in harmony with Jesus: Faith enables the “obedience which leads to righteousness,” wherein we “come to obey from our heart his pattern of teaching” (Rom. 4:13; 6:16-18; 1:17; 3:21f; cf. 14:23)! Then, the “obedience of faith” Paul sought (1:5; 16:26 ) can be a righteousness resulting from a trust in God that enables us to receive God’s ability to love and obey. For Paul sees that a new life flows “out of” faith, just as love is produced by faith (Gal. 5:6; 3:7f; cf. 1 Thes. 1:3; 2 Thes. 1:11). Such faith assures our justification, because trusting & receiving what God offers is the way that we’ll be enabled to lead the righteous life by which all will be judged.
    As with Abraham, trusting our self into God’s hand is itself the obedience that God wants most. And Paul sees that now God’s promises of forgiveness, the Spirit’s help, and the gift of a righteous life all come through a faith in God that trusts in what was demonstrated in Jesus our Lord (Rom. 3:22,26; 5:8; 4: 3,24; 10:9,17; Gal. 3:22). So rejecting Jesus and faith about him would amount to rejecting God & God’s way (cf. Lk 10:16). Since God has acted in Jesus to demonstrate his promises, we are to live ‘out of’ a faith in Him, which follows his teaching, and trusts in God’s forgiving mercy when we fall short (Eph. 1:7). Our obedience, as well as our forgiveness, is seen as a result of God’s grace. So, such a salvation is a divine gift that rests on grace and faith, not on our human achievement (see #4 below).

  3. Paul’s teaching does not assume that Jesus’ Death assures salvation, when we affirm belief in it (e.g. in a prayer; cf. D-I). For Paul, the cross is not a singular transaction that cancels sin’s penalty, removes the consequences of our sin, or secures a ‘justice’ that lets sinners be treated as if they were righteous. And the apostles never declare that it changes God’s disposition, or reconciles God to us.
    The cross’s aim is the change needed on our end: Jesus “died that we will no longer live for our selves,” but “might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:18,15,21). “He gave himself for us… to purify a people eager for good works” (Tit. 2:14; Cf. Mt. 4:1; Jn. 1:29). The function of the cross is that we will “now live for God by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:19,20).
    For God sent his Son as a ‘sin-offering’ “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who live not according to the sinful nature” (Rom. 8:3-5; 5:18f). “Christ suffered to leave you an example in order that you should follow in his steps… He bore our sins so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:21,24). Jesus lays down his life so that “his death might break the power of… the devil… help those who are tempted… (and thus) make people holy” (Heb. 2:14,18,11).
    Jesus’ death does powerfully “demonstrate the love” of God’s eternally forgiving nature (Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Cor. 13:4-8; Lk. 6:35f; 15:1-32; 23:24). Yet the cross in itself can only leave us “in our sins” (1 Cor. 15:17)! For God’s ‘justice’ promised in Jesus is not fulfilled in a punishment, but in restoring what sin takes away.
    For Paul sees that the cross is part of God’s plan, which must be combined with the whole Bible story, especially Jesus’ life and his victorious resurrection over death which brings the Spirit. This brings an ongoing source of grace that rescues us, and by the end will completely defeat the power of sin & evil. Since God’s plan is “through Him to reconcile all things… by making peace through his blood” (Col. 1:20), eventually “in Christ, all will be made alive,” and then God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15: 22,28).

  4. Righteousness is a work of God’s Spirit. Paul emphasizes that Jesus’ being raised from death to new life means that His Spirit can now write God’s ‘law’ “on our hearts,” and so fulfill His “New Covenant” (Jer. 31:33f). This enables “those being made holy” (Heb. 10:14-16) to do the righteousness God sought, freed from the law’s ‘letter,’ but fulfilling its’ spirit (2 Cor. 3:3-6,9,17,18; Gal. 5:13,18: 3:21f). For Paul sees that God made provision in Jesus for the gift of the Spirit who guides us, producing His fruit, and by faith in Him a life (gradually) “transformed into His image.” Thus, the law’s “righteous requirements will be met in us” (Rom. 8:2-27; 2:29; 7:6; 5:5; 15:13; 1 Cor. 2:12,15; 2 Thes. 2:13; cf. Lk. 22:20).

“By faith we receive this promise of the Spirit” (Gal. 3:14; 5:5f), and God does a “good work in you that He will carry on to completion” (Phil. 1:6; cf. 2:12,13; Rom. 12:1f). Yet, at the same time, in obedient faith we must “work out our salvation.” We must “walk by the Spirit,” and “keep in step with the Spirit.” So, “those who sow to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 5:16-26; 6:8). For “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13b). But it is Him who enables us to be “slaves to righteousness,” so that (under grace!) sin is “no longer our master” (Rom. 6:13-22), and at the end we can be (not perfect, but) “blameless” before God (Phil. 1:10f; 3:12; 1 Thes. 3:13; 5:23).

  1. Conclusion: Grace enables ‘works.’ It’s true! Assurance of being in God’s love must rest finally on the grace found in God’s character, not our performance. Yet, the promises of grace through faith can not be separated from Jesus and Paul’s requirement of a righteous life. For we have seen that the way the Spirit, the cross, and faith all function unites Scripture’s insistence on both grace & obedient works.

For Scripture does imply that we must come to the place of willingly living out God’s ways. Yet option 4 can harmonize this with grace, if salvation’s required righteousness rests upon what God is committed to graciously providing. Besides overcoming evil through undeserved forgiveness, His love and grace can mean God administers fitting ‘wrath’ (painful judgments, even ‘hell:’ Mk. 9:49), when our rebellious nature requires that to restore us to the righteous repentance His love intends. So, when by the end, we are graciously brought into His required righteousness, we will testify that it was not a “righteousness of my own,” but produced by the grace of both God’s forgiveness and severity. Therefore in faith, our assurance can be that God will complete this work, and so we can be confident that we will be justified!

That’s a lot to digest - but looking forward to trying.

It seems that there’s a hiccup in point E. Pursuing the way of sin jeopardizes our inheritance in the kingdom, but not necessarily our salvation. Those who build on the only foundation that can be laid (Jesus Christ) with wood hay and stubble can have all their works burned and suffer loss (of inheritance/ rewards), yet still be saved.
Many people equate inheritance of the kingdom with salvation, but they are not the same thing.

Also, point I. cannot be a judgment of salvation vs. condemnation, or works would somehow be required for salvation. I think the judgment is of works is just that and it determines if there is reward or if loss is suffered. We are still saved, though as one escaping through the flames.

He is the savior of all men, especially of believers.

Mel! Thanks for presenting the traditional alternative in which I was also steeped. But on E & I, I’m wondering why you’re so sure a “saved” person can be the same as he who will “not inherit God’s kingdom”? For many it’s a strain not to see “inheriting eternal life,” “entering God Kingdom,” and experiencing “salvation” as overlapping categories. For Jesus and Paul seem to use these terms interchangeably.

You wisely counter with the key text on those who will need to “escape through the flames,” and yet will be saved. You understandably say that it sounds like works are only about “reward,” and “not required for salvation.” (Though could even the application of this image be consistent with the view that a lack of demonstrated character can need to be purified by God’s “fire” in order for us to become what God requires?)

Your emphasis that works are optional is reasurring. And our agreement that God is savior of all men is ultimately reassurring. Your interpretation of one verse is reasonable, but most of the Biblical warnings that those who profess allegiance yet lack fruit and works will face God’s “fire” are more distressing. I’m left wondering how you understand the references in F & D where Paul appears to see obedience to God’s law as required for salvation and eternal life. Doesn’t this also suggest that a goodness seen in our actions (works) is essential?

The citations already referenced in I & E warn that it’s those who do good works who will receive eternal life, whereas those professers who did not do them will depart into God’s eternal fire and punishment. Indeed, since "The Lord will judge HIS people, those who keep on sinning must have a “terrifying expectation… for it is a dreadful thing” (Heb. 10). And likewise James rhetorically asks if a faith without works “can” save?

So on balance, the tensions of many texts with the assured outcome for those saved through “fire” in your citation are less resolved for me than you, and to take those warnings seriously, I’m relucatant to assure Christians that how we live is optional, such that only extra awards are in view, and no concern is called for about the treasures of salvation itself. I’m not even sure that promises of ‘reward,’ such as a “crown of righteousness” is not what is already assured to all who already love God and truly experience a lived out salvation. Indeed, I think being characterized by actual righteousness is what salvation will mean in everyone, when God completes his plan.

I suppose it all depends on how salvation is defined and when it occurs. I admit to much confusion on this point myself, as there seem to be a number of plausible answers. But if we are to believe that all are ultimately ‘saved’, then how do we resolve this apparently clear teaching of scripture with the knowledge that some will not inherit the kingdom, but will rather apparently be saved through the assistance of those who do? It seems clear enough to me that not all will be saved at the same time, but rather “each in his own order”. And what can the role of the firstfruits be as co-rulers if not to be part of bringing in the rest of the harvest? We know that Jesus must reign until all is subjected to him, but then the kingdom reign of Jesus ends when it is handed back over to the Father, who is then all and in all at that point. It seems to me that part of the point of the kingdom is to bring all into it, even if only as subjects. Kingdoms have a King, they also have princes (and princesses) and other members of the royal family who have inheritance in that kingdom; and the kingdom also has subjects who are not privileged members of the royal family. These are some illustrations that have helped me see the distinction between those who are merely saved and those who share in the inheritance of the kingdom.

I do see your point about reassuring people (particularly believers) that how we live is optional, yet it seems that so much of that has been left out of our ultimate control, since we can do nothing apart from Him.
And what “works” are we specifically referring to? They cannot be our works, but must be works of the Spirit. The line between faith and works can get frustratingly fuzzy at times.

Perhaps you can shed some light on these difficulties?..

Do you believe that faith + works equals salvation, or is it “faith alone”? And whichever the case, how does this work?

Thanks for your reflection. On your paragraph 1, I still sense that experiencing “salvation” or “God’s kingdom” (reign) is a similar concept. The timing of salvation can be in all tenses, but I don’t see a contradiction in affirming that not all will be “saved” (or be judged ready to “inherit his kingdom” blessings) at a future judgment, yet will eventually. I trust the details and chronology that are even more beyond me than you to God. It’s enough on my plate to seek to faithfully navigate in the known present.

On paragrahs 2-4, it remains a mystery to me as to how to precisely define and balance our essential part with God’s gracious part which you rightly say “ultimately” assures a saving outcome. (I.e. I find Calvinists and Arminians both reflect some Biblical affirmations, yet how to formulate them together is over my head.) But when you emphasize that the righteousness required in our life “cannot be our works” because “we can do nothing… it’s out of our control,” you may underplay the Bible’s approach that treats us as learners who are called upon to make crucial responses as if with God’s enablement we can make choices that make a difference. I’m afraid the last two pages of my paper is my best shot at this point of how to formulate holding these two truths in a balanced tension. I tend to follow Tom Talbott’s papers on how short of hard determinism we are bound to fail, and yet how we ignorant creatures were created to grow in knowledge and ‘freedom.’ But it’s assured because God the great Chessplayer’s love and grace will ultimately get all the credit for bringing us (with both carrots and sticks) to where we reflect the righteous character (and works) that are required. So the “works” are not ultimately “ours” in the sense that we get credit for the ability to do them, and yet in another sense we genuinely and freely need to participate in them. But, no, I don’t fully comprehend him or any of this. I’m only seeking to maintain both sides of the tension that I find in Scripture!

Mel asks if “faith alone” or faith and works = salvation. I’m closer to Catholics than some, in sensing that works and fruit (and faith) are essential in it. But if Luther said, true “faith can never be alone,” the differences may be semantic. I don’t see that believing at a certain moment, in the sense of agreeing with the truth that God provided a gracious atonement, is said to guarantee a good verdict on the day of judgment. God’s love toward producing a good work of blessing in us may see that we need to experience more ‘fire’ (whatever that literally is, but talk about sounding like a Catholic on purgatory!). But I see an assumption that saving faith involves demonstrating ongoing repentance and a persevering trust in God that is reflected in obedience and holiness. The warning passages even seem to assume that it’s possible to experience that, but choose to fall away from it. Thus, in a real sense, the passages my paper cites, while seeing works as a corollary and fruit of faith, appear to treat works as “required,” even though in an ultimate sense, such genuine goodness will be recognized as not coming from us, but dependent on the grace of God.

Thanks Bob,

One key seems to be identifying the works as that which God does through us. We know self-effort isn’t going to cut it. In a sense, works are the evidence that faith is working itself out in our lives. It seems like works are more a by-product of genuine faith, rather than a separate requirement for salvation. I think Luther was probably right. If you don’t see a tree producing fruit, you’ve got to wonder if the tree is healthy.

I’m also one who believes that real faith has got to be more than mental assent to the truth. You mention ongoing repentance (metanoia) which is actually changing or renewing of the mind. This is true transformation, and I suspect that worthy works of the Spirit flow out from this.

It seems that our responsibility is to walk by the spirit, to hear and obey that voice vs. the voice of the flesh. Though again, I’m not sure where to draw the line of where our responsibility begins and ends with regard to this, as scriptures such as: “He is the author and finisher (perfecter) of our faith”, “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it”, “No one can come to the Father unless I draw him”, etc. come to mind. There just seems to be so little room for any of US in there, if you know what I mean.

I also wonder if the role of works in salvation may be something along the lines of an experiential thing. Perhaps positionally, we are all saved because of the cross; but like faith, this does not become a practical reality for us until it begins working itself out in our lives.

Mel, we’re simpatico! Faith seems to be a link to receiving God’s gracious work of producing in us by his Spirit truly righteous character and ‘works’ (not just hopeless ego-tistic self-effort). Yes, the assurance that God will complete the work of saving All can sound as if there’s “little room for US in there.” Still, Talbott contends for God’s ability to accomplish this without sheer determinism, validating in some sense your words, “our responsibility is… to obey.”

On your last note, I’d say that God’s gracious character, as demonstrated at the cross, means that we are all in a secure “position” of being embraced in a love that assures full transformation and reconciliation. And yet in our practical reality, experiencing that may yet lie ahead through our life’s ‘journey’ that involves a sort of ‘soul-making’ in which we are accountable to learn and obey (even though God is the One who makes that possible). Thus e.g. in Romans 6:14-18, being those “under grace” who are “set free from sin,” doesn’t mean that we’re just granted an imputed righteousmess, or are simply now exempt from sin’s consequences. For it is still required that we be those who “come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.” Grace be with you.

I’ve found this thread both interesting and edifying (and I have nothing to add but thanks.)

Perhaps I could add that I agree with the statement that “saving faith involves demonstrating ongoing repentance and a persevering trust in God that is reflected in obedience and holiness.”

(That seems to me to be the clear teaching of Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul.)

And again, thank you both.

Michael, thanks for expressing your appreciation and ressonance with the discussion! I suspect that some would be less receptive to the emphasis on the need for “obedience and holiness,” but they haven’t launched a challenge yet:)

Unfortunately, I haven’t always been as receptive to such things as I should be.

I’ve benefited from reading along here (and God willing, I’ll continue to read along.)

Thank you (God Bless.)

I have found Bob’s posts on this thread helpful as well, and agree with most everything he’s said. Having an obedient will that is growing more and more in harmony with God’s law is absolutely essential to our enjoyment of God’s blessing. I think my only main difference in opinion regarding the ideas expressed on this thread is that I do not see salvation by faith (or rather salvation by “faith-based obedience!”) as something extending beyond this mortal life, since I don’t think the faith by which we are made obedient (and thus saved) will be possible in the resurrection. Nor do I think that there will any longer be an ongoing struggle between “the flesh” and “the spirit” that makes obedience and holiness a matter of perseverance. Whereas our subjection to Christ at present is a progressive growth into his moral likeness that requires wise decisions and a refusal to yield to the temptations that continually assault us, in the resurrection I believe that subjection to Christ will be complete and permanent for all, and that temptation will no longer be possible.

Aaron, thanks for the clear reaction. We seem very close on the main controversies over what God seeks and requires upon which my paper focused. These are distinctions far more important to me than the one on which we differ, and I’d be fine with seeing transformation after death as a unilateral and instant divine deed. Yet as I’d expect, our difference is that you believe physical death suspends all development and growth in our journey.

Two things make me skeptical: (1) A modern sense that logically expects some continuity in the realities of our experience and growth, and in the developing priorities that God would seek in us. (2) Esp. the traditional understanding of texts that seem to indicate God’s dealings beyond death. I hope to develop such a Biblical case (some facets of which have been already discussed on other threads). But as I’m now working much overtime at the census, it must wait. (Have you found yet whether Jerzak’s take is compatible with your view?)

Hi Bob,

I can certainly understand your skepticism in regards to the Ultra-U view that there will be no need for further moral development post-resurrection, and that sin does not extend beyond this mortal existence. It’s a radical thought, to be sure! However, I think we should be very careful when attempting to apply what we know of this mortal existence to our existence “beyond the grave,” which we can really know nothing about apart from a divine revelation. What may be a “normal” and perfectly reasonable aspect of this existence may not be in the next. Even assuming that I’m wrong about there being no sin or punishment after the resurrection, I still don’t think we can fully comprehend just how different our post-resurrection existence will be when compared to this life. What is “normal” now will not be so when we are “made alive in Christ” and taken to heaven to dwell with God; the only constant will be some essential aspect of what makes us who we are as a person. Everything else about our existence will be forever changed.

Moreover, I think it’s highly significant that, when discussing the topic of the resurrection with the Sadducees, Christ places the emphasis not on the continuity between this life and the next (as the Sadducees had erred for doing), but on the radical discontinuity! Walter Balfour (one of my favorite Ultra-U’s from the 19th century) noted, “The Sadducees adopted the principle of analogy, and reasoned on it between the present and future state, and proposed this question to our Lord as presenting a serious difficulty against the resurrection. But I know of no part of Scripture which teaches that we ought to reason on the principle of analogy between the present and future state of existence. Mr. Hudson (a universalist who believed in future punishment, and with whom Balfour engaged in a few debates) and many others make great use of this principle, but I do not remember seeing any writer prove by an appeal to the Bible that the sacred writers either taught the principle or used it in any of their reasoning respecting a future state of existence. If such things are to be found in Scripture, they have escaped my observations…Whatever others may do, it is a principle I cannot adopt myself, nor admit as correct in others, until I see it established by divine authority.”

As far as those texts that “seem to indicate God’s dealings beyond death,” I look forward to discussing them with you in the future. I haven’t had time to check out Jerzak’s book yet, but it’s at the top of my list! I’ll let you know how compatible (or not) I think our views are as soon as I am able. But as someone who is familiar with it, what is your first impression?

No one expects total continuity, but it seems that our Western assumptions of the coherence of reality and of God’s nature would logically encourage the expectation of some basic continuity, putting the burden on those denying it. Like all fundamentalists, you presume that the only way we can know anything is “divine revelation.” Even if that debateable premise were true, they still can’t seem to agree on what it reveals, and other input seems bound to influence conclusions.

Does revelation reveal that the Sadduccess erred on the side of continuity about the nature of “our future state of existence”? I thought they believed in the ultimate discontinuity: there is no such life after death. I.e. they assumed that continuity made NO sense. Wasn’t Jesus’ response that experiencing God now as the God of Abraham must logically mean that there IS a continuity of Abraham’s “future state of existence,” such that he must continue in a similar existence before God as he experienced in this life? I.e. it seems like his argument against the Pharisees was FOR continuity.

Aaron, I do appreciate you in tackling my admission that a debateable assumption influences my interpretation of Scripture. But you argue, “No part of Scripture says to reason on the principle of any analogy between our present and future existence!” Yet Jesus seems to assert (despite a discontinuity regarding marriage) that the Sadduccees (not the Pharisees), despite their insistence that “divine revelation” does not reveal Jesus’ conclusion at all, have erred on the side of too much discontinuity.

And doesn’t Paul parrallel Jesus’ assumption on this in his main text on “the nature of our existence” “beyond the grave.” 1 Corinthians 15 urges us to expect that we will experience its’ similarity as similar to the relationship of a seed and the life that emerges out of that same seed’s nature. Isn’t that precisely another argument that assumes that we should think in terms of some continuity. Maybe because of my assumptions, I find Jesus’ & Paul’s reasoning attractive & persuasive.

Bob wrote: No one expects total continuity, but it seems that our Western assumptions of the coherence of reality and of God’s nature would logically encourage the expectation of some basic continuity, putting the burden on those denying it. Like all fundamentalists, you presume that the only way we can know anything is “divine revelation.” Even if that debateable premise were true, they still can’t seem to agree on what it reveals, and other input seems bound to influence conclusions.

Aaron: Actually, I wasn’t arguing for a complete lack of continuity; that which makes us who we are as a person (e.g., our memory and first-person perspective) will certainly continue. But as this much is revealed by in Scripture, we don’t have to speculate. But the question of whether or not we will still be sinners and in need of further punishment is entirely a matter of speculation unless it is revealed to us by God. To argue that we probably will be able to sin in the next life (since that is a part of our present existence) is no different than someone who is competely ignorant of the Bible asserting that we will probably will be able to die in the next life as well (since death is a part of our present existence) - or that we will probably be able to procreate and raise a family, since that too is a part of our present existence.

Bob: Does revelation reveal that the Sadduccess erred on the side of continuity about the nature of “our future state of existence”? I thought they believed in the ultimate discontinuity: there is no such life after death. I.e. they assumed that continuity made NO sense.

Aaron: Actually, in one sense they believed in strict continuity. Since for them the Torah didn’t reveal life after death, and there was no reason to believe from experience or observation that we continue live beyond death, then they believed that this present existence would simply continue just as it is, with life beginning with birth and ending with death, and no miraculous interruption of this natural cycle. There’s no discontinuity in this view unless it is assumed that there is some “part” of us that would continue on after death, but for whatever reason, doesn’t.

The idea of “life after death” was absurd to them because (as is evidenced by their question to Jesus about the woman who had seven husbands) they were applying the same strict continuity to it as well. Jesus corrects their erroneous view of the resurrection existence by arguing against such continuity.

Bob: Wasn’t Jesus’ response that experiencing God now as the God of Abraham must logically mean that there IS a continuity of Abraham’s “future state of existence,” such that he must continue in a similar existence before God as he experienced in this life? I.e. it seems like his argument against the Pharisees was FOR continuity.

Aaron: Again, only in a limited sense. The only thing Jesus is arguing will continue is the persons themselves - and even that is not due to some natural process, but because God is going to miraculously intervene and bring us back to life by his direct power. That is, our resurrection is going to be an interruption in the continuity of this natural existence. And we have no reason to argue from other aspects of our present mortal existence what our future immortal existence will be like. While one may speculate about it all they want, all we can know for sure is what Scripture has to say about it.

I’ll have more to say later, when I have more time! Time to head on to work.

Ok, just to be clear: While I think the Sadducees held to what might be called a naturalistic continuity (i.e., they believed, like the modern atheist, that this mundane state of affairs would simply continue without divine intervention, and people would continue to be born and die, and once dead would continue to be dead) I agree that, in one sense it could be said that the Sadducees denied continuity (i.e., the continuity of the life/consciousness of the individual after death). But to believe in the continuation of the person after death would itself mean that there is or will be a “break” in the continuity of the existence we know from experience and observation (which, for the individual, is defined by birth and death). But this particular “break” in continuity regarding individual human existence is revealed in Scripture (including the Torah!), and was brought to light through Christ’s death and resurrection (which is why I happily affirm what the Sadducees denied!).

For instance, we know based on the nature of Christ’s resurrection that our future existence will be physical and embodied, and that we will be (or have the capacity to be) recognizable to others, as well as have the ability to eat (since Christ was able to do so). But the fact that Scripture reveals this “minimalist” continuity does not therefore give us license to reason from analogy on what every aspect of our future existence will or will not be like. Just because someone was a drunkard or a thief in this life doesn’t mean we should assume that this aspect of their present identity will continue in the resurrection - especially when Scripture teaches it won’t (which I think is the case). But even if Scripture was silent in regards to the question of whether or not some (or all) people will be raised as immortal sinners, I think we should resist the temptation to attempt to reason from analogy regarding what Scripture doesn’t reveal about our future existence, since there is no precedent for doing this. Paul’s “seed analogy” in 1 Cor 15 is no exception to this, since Paul used it merely to defend what had already been revealed (i.e., that the dead will be raised just as Christ was raised, and that, therefore, there will be some essential continuity between this life and the next). He’s not, however, referring us to some characteristic or feature of our mortal existence to prove something about our future existence that was not previously revealed in the OT or through Christ’s resurrection.