Today, we will continue with our response to Dave Armstrong and his book, “The Catholic Verses,” in which the Catholic apologist presents ninety-five Bible verses or passages that allegedly validate Catholicism and are claimed to “confound” Protestants.
In the last couple of weeks, we examined several verses/passages which Armstrong presented as proof texts for salvation by faith plus works. Today, we’ll examine the next three verses/passages that Armstrong presents as evidence for the same claim.
Armstrong introduces the first of the three passages with the heading, “St. Paul’s Plea: ‘Work out your salvation.'”
#35) Philippians 2:12-13 – “12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Beneath this passage Armstrong writes, “Catholics assert that passages such as this teach that God’s free grace can be made ‘both to will and to work’ in us.” – p. 73. Catholic apologists frequently cite this passage as a proof text that salvation is merited by works. While Catholics readily attribute their good works to the graces they claim to receive from their sacraments, they also claim that the works are meritorious toward their salvation.
Bible Christians interpret this passage quite differently. From MacArthur’s Bible Commentary regarding “work out your own salvation,” we read: “The Greek verb “katergazesthe” rendered ‘work out’ means ‘to continually work to bring something to fulfillment or completion.’ It cannot refer to salvation by works (cf. Rom. 3:21-24; Eph. 2:8,9), but it does refer to the believer’s responsibility for active pursuit of obedience in the process of sanctification.” – p. 1717. Regarding “fear and trembling,” believers should NOT be in a constant state of nervousness and anxiety as they serve the Lord, but should have a sense of great reverence, respect, and humility for their Holy King as they seek to follow Him in obedience. The Greek word for “fear” – “phobos” – also means “to reverence.” The article far below is quite helpful in studying this passage.
Armstrong prefixes the next passage with “Obedience necessary for salvation.”
#36) Hebrews 5:9 – “and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,”
Beneath this verse, Armstrong comments, “Catholics point out that obedience to God is directly tied into salvation…This verse would make many Protestants squirm, for it states outright that salvation involves obeying not merely believing.” – p. 74.
However, honest exegesis demands that we acknowledge that Scripture often uses the word “obedience” as a synonym for faith:
“28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:28-29 (see also John 3:36, and Acts 6:7 ).
Yes, obedience and good works are the fruit of genuine salvation in Christ, but they do not merit salvation.
Armstrong introduces the next passage with the heading, “Disobedience led to death, obedience to justification.”
#37) Romans 5:17-19 – “17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”
Armstrong writes, “This passage presents, upon deeper inspection, a subtle but effective argument for actual, infused, intrinsic justification (the Catholic view), as opposed to the Protestants’ extrinsic, imputed, merely ‘declared’ righteousness.” – p. 76.
Armstrong is really stretching things by using this passage in an attempt to validate merited salvation. I’m assuming he saw the word “obedience” and could not resist including it, despite the very awkward extrapolation, which even he obliquely admits to. Sorry, Mr. Armstrong, there’s nothing in this passage that suggests merited salvation. The verse forthrightly states that righteousness and salvation in Christ is a “free gift.” The text teaches that Adam’s sin brought universal death, while Christ’s sacrifice brought salvation to those who trust in Him as Savior, nothing more.
While Armstrong cites Philippians 2:12-13, Hebrews 5:9, and Romans 5:17-19 as proof texts of merited salvation, careful examination reveals that these verses do not overturn the Gospel of grace.
See the articles below for further study.