Posts Tagged ‘St Paul’

When we have achieved a certain level of progress in our spiritual journey, not rarely we may experience a sense of sadness and even discouragement after committing a sin, after offending God. This sadness may lead us to feel like a failure and can cause us to focus not on our progress but on our failures, which we know is not a positive thing.

Obviously, Scripture tells us in Romans 6 that, as Christians, we have been buried with Christ and thus, we died to sin. We are a new creation and live by the hope of the Resurrection, and so we must always strive to overcome sin and live in accordance to the will of God. However, as good a thing as the feeling of sadness or disappointment after committing a sin may seem at a first glance, we should be cautious and aware of the dangers of such seemly positive emotions. We have, at all times, to remember the words of St Paul in Ephesian 6 and bear in mind that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but principalities and spiritual forces of evil. The Devil will explore our weaknesses and bad tendencies and do all that he can to divert us from our trust in God. Therefore those feelings which may present themselves as innocent, if not as a sign of spiritual zeal, may in fact be the result of our failure to put our trust in God, trusting instead, ourselves.

In order to be sure that the pain we feel after committing a sin results from a pure sadness for offending God – which comes from the Holy Spirit acting in us – and is not the result of our own week flesh, our pride for not living up to the standard that we set up for ourselves, we have to be mindful of a few hidden clues. Those who love God and genuinely regret offending the Lord because of their love for God – not for themselves – will not despair at their own faults. They may not be surprised at all that they have fallen, because they acknowledge that they are weak and in doing so, they are more aware of the fact that sinning is not something they can prevent in their own power and so they surrender they faults to God. This attitude comes exactly from an opposite movement of the soul that, rather than making us feel hurt because we are too proud to recognize our many flaws and brokenness, make us  humble enough to accept it and trust in the work that God is doing in us. To this effect the words of St Paul in Romans 8,28 come in hand: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The saints understood this very well and have left us their example in their lives and their writings. St. Augustine added, when quoting Rom 8,28, that God can use even our sins for our good.

Therefore, whenever we are faced with our own faults and imperfections, let us not be discouraged and become despondent, but rather, set our eyes in Jesus and His Mercy and trust that He will bring to completion the work that he has begun in us.

Finally, I should like to share this prayer that I found in this little book by Fr Jacques Philippe which I have been reading – ‘ Searching for and Maintaining Peace’ – a book which  in fact was not only the inspiration for this post but a major reference while writing it.

“Lord, I ask your pardon, I have sinned again. This is, alas, what I am capable of doing on my own! But I abandon myself with confidence to Your mercy and Your pardon, and I thank you for not allowing me to sin more grievously. I abandon myself to You with confidence because I know that one day You will heal me completely, and in the meantime, I ask you that the experience of my misery would cause me to be more humble, more considerate of others, more conscious that I can do nothing by myself, but that I must rely solely on Your love and Your mercy.”

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 In 1521 Martin Luther declared at the Imperial Hearing of Worms to which he was called to answer questions on his controversial views on the fundamental Christian Doctrine of Salvation taught by the Catholic Church.

 “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

And thus was ‘officially’ created the Doctrine of Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. Luther’s rejection of the authority of the Church as the Gardian and interpreter of the Divine Revelation created another series of problems, namely, misguided interpretations of the teachings in the Gospel of Christ, for instance the Doctrine of Faith Alone.

Luther supported his doctrine of Salvation mainly by the writings of St Paul. However, in order to justify his understanding, when translating the works of St Paul, Luther added  the word ‘alone’ in Romans 3:28 in his German translation of the Original – “For we hold that a man is justified by faith alone”. Therefore, we can affirm that he corrupted the text of the Scripture to support his views and interpretation, because in a clean translation from the original Greek, St Paul actually explains justification as:

“For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Does God belong to Jews alone? Does he not belong to Gentiles, too? Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not! On the contrary, we are supporting the law”. (Rom 3:28)

Luther regarded the teachings of St Paul very highly, thus he once declared: “St Paul taught a simple gospel that relies on the Christian believing in the person and the works of Jesus Christ to be justified.” In simple terms, this affirmative institutes the doctrine of imputed righteousness, an alien righteousness that is imputed to the believer, which is held until today by most protestant denominations.

The Catholic Church teaches, as we will see in a moment, that men are justified by faith but not by faith alone. As Catholic we must receive the Sacrament of Baptism –  or Sacrament of Faith – through which the righteousness of Christ is infused in into the soul of the Christian, and becomes the righteousness of the believer AND believe in Christ Jesus as our Saviour. The Church also teaches that faith is a gift of God’s grace which is given to us only by God.  Therefore, we can say that salvation comes from grace alone.

The writings of St Paul demonstrate that he agrees with St James’ statement that a man is saved ‘not by faith alone’ (James 2: 24), and as we have seen, he writes that justification is  by ‘faith apart from the works of the Law’. But what does St Paul mean by works of the Law?


The debate within the Catholic & Apostolic Church on the definition of ‘Works of the Law’ goes all the way back to St Jerome, who defined it as being the “ceremonial precepts of the Old Testament’, which are the precepts that Moses gave to the people of Israel to distinct them from the Gentiles, such as prohibition of eating certain foods, circumcision or any other cultural law kept by Jews. St Jerome did not include in his view neither the Judicial Precepts or the Moral Precepts, or the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments – in his definition of works of the Law.

The Council of Trent of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, included the entire body of the Mosaic Law as ‘works of the Law’, which at a first glance seem to be in accordance with Luther, except for the fact that the Catholic Church does not exclude the role of works off the process of sanctification of the believer. Therefore, we come to God with faith, and faith prepares us to walk in works. These works integral of justification are not merely the fruits of faith, because they cooperate with the faith.

In the Book of James the Apostle cites Gen 22 where Abraham is justified as he attempts to sacrifice his son and is said to be justified because his faith is cooperating with the works. The book of Genesis demonstrates that justification is not a one time event process, but continues to be developed, as we see Abraham himself being justified at least in two other occasions (Gen 12, 15) additionally to the one mentioned above.

Therefore, when St Paul speaks of ‘works of the Law’ we know that he refers to the 613 precepts of the Jewish law, but he is equally condemning anyone who would seek to impress God by his works alone, or  that he taught that the 10 commandments no longer apply to Christians. In Romans 3:31 St Paul writes:

31 Are we then annulling the law by this faith? Of course not! On the contrary, we are supporting the law.

Many Protestants wrongly believe that Catholics hold that we are justified by works. This is wrong, because Catholics know that works without faith is empty! Instead, Catholics believe that man is justified by faith working through love!  A view which is confirmed by St Paul, for instance, in his Epistle 1Corinthians 13: 1-3

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I HAVE ALL faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

St Paul is saying that faith must be formed with love and to love Jesus is to keep his commandments.(Jn 14:15). Therefore, a faith formed by love obeys the commandments and acts or works, and this has been the teaching of the Catholic Church. Justification does not occur by faith alone, but by faith through works of love. 

For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor un-circumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love (Gal 5:6)

 This is ecchoed in the teachings of St Peter in Second letter:
 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtuewith knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Pet 1:3-10)

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