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Robinson vs. Paul on Grace: Abraham’s Justification by Faith

October 27, 2009

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to

him for righteousness.  Gen 15:6

I believe that this verse is possibly the most important in the entire Old Testament, for it succinctly teaches the doctrine of justification by faith.  Abraham’s belief was not lost on the New Testament writers, and this verse is quoted a total of three times in the New Testament—each writer emphasizing a different word.  The terms used are important because it is the first time the words translated “believed,” “counted” and “righteousness” are used in the Scripture.

Background of Genesis 15:6

This event occurred fairly early in the account of Abraham’s life.  While we are familiar with some of the more remarkable details of his story, this preceded his great acts of faith.  This was prior to the birth of Isaac, prior to his circumcision, and prior to his offer of Isaac upon the altar.

But, what does the passage mean?  And how can we apply it to a New Testament understanding of salvation?

James 2:21-23—Righteousness

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote an epistle to believers to show them that faith, without works, is dead.  And to prove his point he cites a case of faith in action.  Abraham’s offer of Isaac upon the altar was not simple obedience.  Abraham knew that all the promises of God to him were wrapped up in that one son.  That through his son he would have descendants that would be as numberless as the stars in the sky.  And when he offered up Isaac he was acting out of faith that—somehow—God would provide a way.  Some accuse James of preaching a different gospel than Paul’s gospel of justification by faith.  But James is not!  He is showing that faith is expressed in action.  And the latter part of the James passage shows how this is true.  Prior to the act of faith was the belief that imputed righteousness to Abraham.  James is careful not to place the cart before the horse.  It was not the righteous acts of Abraham that made him righteous—it was belief that resulted in righteous acts.

Galatians 3:6—Belief/Faith

The Galatians were a group of Jewish Christians who struggled with abandoning the law after becoming followers of Christ.  They failed to understand that the law was only a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (3:24).  The gospel was not received by faith+law, but by faith alone.  The Galatians did not understand that “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (2:16).

To illustrate these concepts, Paul brings to their remembrance Genesis 15:6—the Abrahamic Covenant was by faith.

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham (3:6-9).

Paul makes the distinction between those who are “of faith” and those that are not.  The blessings that Abraham receives can be shared with those who enter in by faith.

Romans 4:3—Counted

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt (4:1-4).

The word “counted” is translated later in the chapter as “reckoned” and “imputed.”  It can be understood in terms of accounting—to take an inventory or to number.  God places the person who believes on the credit side of the ledger—justifying him for his faith.  Paul then goes on to explain that if a man worked for justification it would not be grace, but it would be received as a wage.  When you put in 40 hours a week you expect to be paid a salary.  Your paycheck is not a gift.  But, a grandparent’s gift to their grandchild is apart from works—it is given out of love.  God acts in this way—as a giver of a gift, not an employer.

The Parable of the Bicycle

In his book Believing Christ, BYU professor Stephen Robinson tells the parable of the bicycle.  His daughter had desperately wanted a bike and pled with him to buy one for her.  He encouraged her to save up her nickels and dimes.  She faithfully did as he asked, doing tasks for her mother to earn the money.  The day came when they went looking for the bicycle, but when she found the perfect one and looked at the price tag, she realized she could never afford it.  The bike cost $100 and she had only saved sixty-one cents.  But, her father loved her and wanted the best for her, so he covered the rest of the cost of the bicycle.  This illustrates Robinson’s assertion that Christ will cover the cost of our salvation when we put forth a good-faith effort to try (pp 30-34).

The Parable of the Bicycle is easy to understand, but does it correctly convey the Biblical doctrine of grace?  Robinson presents Jesus as saying this to us.

“How much do you have?  How much can fairly be expected of you?  You give me exactly that much (the whole sixty-one cents) and do all you can do, and I will provide the rest now” (p. 33).

And then, the final statement indicates the partner-type relationship between Christ and believers that Robinson pictures.

“Between the two of us, we’ll have it all covered.  You will be one hundred percent justified” (p. 33).

But, contrary to what Robinson describes, apart from Christ our good deeds mean nothing.  The prophet Isaiah presents it this way:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (64:6).

The Jews were very cautious with lepers in their society.  They were kept outside of contact with other people and, because of the contagious nature of their disease, had to loudly announce their presence, crying “unclean!”  The meaning of “filthy rags” is literally a “menstruous rag” (Lev. 15:33; Lev. 20:18; Lam 1:17).  The “good faith” efforts that we put forth are viewed by a holy God as polluted, leprous, filthy rags.  Not only is this a far cry from sixty-one cents, it places us (apart from Christ) in the worst possible light.

Faith or Works

In a book laden with the promises of God’s mercy, Robinson is careful to clarify the extent of grace.

However, for Latter-day Saints the doctrine of grace does not mean that we are saved by grace alone, that is, without participating in the process in some degree, nor does it mean that salvation is totally without conditions (p. 68).

But this flies in the face of the theology taught by New Testament writers!  After using the example of Abraham’s faith in Romans 4, Paul presents the most transcendent concept of the gospel.

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness (v. 5).

The justified person is one who does not work.  Contrary to any human understanding of what would merit such an offer, God demands that the gift remain a gift.  Any work would make it no longer a gift, but a wage.  How can we be sure that God provides this to people, even without their own good-faith effort?  Because he justifies the ungodly.  Not someone who has tried their best, not someone who has lived the Golden Rule.  Not someone who provides sixty-one cents.  Justification is by faith alone.

And that is good news.

48 Comments leave one →
  1. psychochemiker permalink
    October 28, 2009 12:17 am

    If it were by faith alone, I have enough FAITH that Paul would have written it. It wouldn’t have been unclear for 1500 years after Paul wrote it until Luther corrected. Sorry, but this is some serious historical collapse.

  2. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 12:26 am


    I don’t want to imply in any way that Protestants do not value good works. As I mentioned above, James’ entire epistle is on this subject. In fact, the Apostle Paul states that we have been “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). I do give to my church, and care for others, and seek to walk in the Spirit. But I don’t view my works as salvific in any way.

    You state that Paul should have written that salvation was by faith alone. How do you interpret these verses?

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

    Not of works, lest any man should boast. Eph 2:8-9


  3. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 12:38 am

    And speaking of historical collapse, the Catholic church did not provide the Bible to the masses but read it in church in Latin–a language most were unfamiliar with. The Bible was viewed as being too difficult for the laity to understand. The teaching prevailed that the only authorized / correct interpretation was that provided by the Church. It is important to recognize that the Reformation is closely linked with the invention of the printing press. I don’t have any excuse for the Catholic leaders who failed to teach salvation by faith, but its not like the Reformation cured them of that! The Catholic church is the worlds largest Christian church, comprising more than 1 billion people.

  4. October 28, 2009 1:12 am

    In my study on this topic, the Greek term “logizomai” is the English term for “reckon/impute/credit/etc,” (all terms are basically equivalently used) and when I look up that term in a popular Protestant Lexicon here is what it is defined as:

    QUOTE: “This word deals with reality. If I “logizomai” or reckon that my bank book has $25 in it, it has $25 in it. Otherwise I am deceiving myself. This word refers to facts not suppositions.”

    The Protestant Lexicon states this term first and foremost refers to the actual status of something. So if Abraham’s faith is “logizomai as righteousness,” it must be an actually righteous act of faith, otherwise (as the Lexicon says) “I am deceiving myself.” This seems to rule out any notion of an alien righteousness, and instead points to a local/inherent righteousness.

    The Lexicon gives other examples where “logizomai” appears, here are 3 examples:

    Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

    Notice in these examples that “logizomai” means to consider the actual truth of an object. In 3:28 Paul ‘reckons’ faith saves while the Law does not, this is a fact, the Law never saves. In 6:11 the Christian is ‘reckoned’ dead to sin because he is in fact dead to sin. In 8:18 Paul ‘reckons’ the present sufferings as having no comparison to Heavenly glory, and that is true because nothing compares to Heavenly glory.

    To use logizomai in the “alien status” way would mean in: (1) 3:28 faith doesn’t really save apart from works, but we are going to go ahead and say it does; (2) 6:11 that we are not really dead to sin but are going to say we are; (3) 8:18 the present sufferings are comparable to Heaven’s glory.
    This cannot be right.

    So when the text plainly says “faith is logizomai as righteousness,” I must read that as ‘faith is reckoned as a truly righteous act’, and that is precisely how Paul explains that phrase in 4:18-22. That despite the doubts that could be raised in Abraham’s heart, his faith grew strong and convinced and “that is why his faith was credited as righteousness” (v4:22). This is also confirmed by noting the only other time “credited as righteousness” appears in Scripture, Psalm 106:30-31, where Phinehas’ righteous action was reckoned as such.

  5. psychochemiker permalink
    October 28, 2009 1:25 am

    Nowhere does Paul state “Faith alone.”

    It is a true statement to say that Paul taught justification comes by faith.
    It is a false statement to say that Paul taught justification comes by faith alone.

    The adding of “alone” was done by Luther for interpretational purposes. It’s just the same as changing the truthful statement of “God is love” (1 John 4:8) to “God is ONLY love.” Quite frankly, it’s the same false argument liberals use to say “God couldn’t ever condemn someone because God only loves.” We both know better in that circumstance. Shouldn’t we use the same logic (resist adding modifiers because they fit our worldview better) here?

  6. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 1:44 am


    I understand your argument and I truly do see your point. I agree that Paul does not use the words “faith alone.” However, neither does he state that justification is NOT by faith alone.

    I really liked Robinson’s book and underlined many, many statements that I agreed with (as well as those that I didn’t!). I found him to be compassionate, articulate and able to grasp well the problem of sin and the mercy of God’s grace. Its just that his argument doesn’t stand up to the New Testament presentation of salvation by grace.

    The issue of Abraham’s faith is very important. Abraham was justified prior to his works demonstrating his faith. Can you provide evidence that Paul did not preach justification by faith alone?

    Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Rom. 8:28)


  7. NChristine permalink
    October 28, 2009 1:59 am

    Hi PC,

    Haven’t talked with you for awhile! 🙂

    To tag off Stephanie, what about these statements?

    For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works… (Eph. 2:8-9).

    And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work (Romans 11:6).

    How do you interpret these otherwise? 🙂

  8. psychochemiker permalink
    October 28, 2009 3:20 am

    Hi Stephanie.
    Yeah, it’s been awhile. While I recognize that you’re firmly convinced that Robinson isn’t inline with the biblical data, I’m also suggesting that just because Robinson doesn’t stand up to YOUR personal (e.i., unathoritative) interpretation of the biblical data, doesn’t mean it doesn’t stand up to the New Testament presentation of salvation by grace.

    The way that I try and read the New Testament is in context.
    Q: Who was Paul talking to?
    A: Non-Jewish Romans who were wondering if they had to live the law of Moses in order to be good Christians. Paul’s writings were reactions to Judaizers.

    Q: What deeds of the law was Paul referring to?
    A: Paul was referring to the works of the Law of Moses, circumcision, passover, kosher foods, etc.

    Q: Can baptism be a work of the law that Paul was referring to?
    A: While some washings were part of the Mosaic temple cult, there is no Mosaic requirement of baptism, and therefore, because baptism was not a part of the law of Moses, this verse cannot be used to proof-text against the necessity of Baptism.

    Therefore, by using an understanding of the Old Testament to understand Romans, I see the data having a limit. Paul wasn’t saying “You don’t have to do anything to be saved.” That wasn’t Paul’s message. His message was you don’t have to live ANY of the law of Moses in order to be saved. I read this verse as follows, “Therefore, we conclude that mankind is justified by faith IN CHRIST, without the deeds (or works) of the law OF MOSES.”

    The same goes for Ephesians and Romans 11. The way I read those verses are as follows: “For by grace are ye saved through faith IN CHRIST, and not of yourselves. You do not earn salvation, for salvation is a gift of God, not a reward for keeping the Law of Moses.” “If salvation is by grace, then it is not earned by works of the law of Moses.”

    So, having shown that Paul didn’t say exactly what you all are saying, the onus then rests on you all to defend why you are using a viewpoint developed 1500 years after you all believe the canon to have been closed (without biblical mandate), developed by a non-authorized man (Luther) who was reacting to historical events like the selling of indulgences by the Catholic church. In my view, why are you all willing to commit the sin of historical collapse on this verse and crucify Mormons who read their religion into the New Testament? Hello pot, meet kettle.

  9. psychochemiker permalink
    October 28, 2009 3:21 am

    I’m going to raise you one Phillipians 3.

    8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
    9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

  10. NChristine permalink
    October 28, 2009 4:01 am

    Hi PC,

    Amen on Philippians 3!

    It seems to me that we are agreeing that these verses mean “Salvation is by grace through faith.”

    You are arguing that they are not saying “Salvation is by grace through faith only” — which implies you believe salvation is by grace plus something. But you haven’t specified what that something is, though you referenced baptism. Since Paul says it is “by faith” and adds nothing to the equation, could you delineate all elements of your equation? That is, “Salvation is by ??”



  11. psychochemiker permalink
    October 28, 2009 4:14 am

    yes. I just don’t know how soon I’ll write it. I’ve tried to express it (somewhere) as teh parable of the pie, but I’ll try again. 🙂

  12. NChristine permalink
    October 28, 2009 4:46 am

    Oh–you don’t have to compose a parable. 🙂 I just mean in terms of Paul’s argument, in terms of New Testament Scripture — even just stick to Ephesians 2:8-9 — what do you believe is the simple “equation,” so to speak, for salvation, if items should be added to “by grace are ye saved through faith”?

    You said that when Paul says it is “through faith,” he is not saying it is not also through something else (if that makes sense). But Paul doesn’t say that. He just says it is “by grace…through faith” (that is, faith is the means by which the grace is received), which seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

    Also, you said that the “works” are only referring to the Mosaic Law and so don’t preclude other types of works. But Paul says that it is “by grace…through faith, and that not of yourselves.” Doesn’t “not of yourselves” exclude all possible activities, motives, intentions, or attitudes that we might do/have to gain salvation? As if he was not already clear enough, he says it is “a gift of God.” What would be Paul’s intention for using the word “gift,” if he was not intending to communicate — as he did with each of the preceding phrases — that it was free?

    Then to contrast the idea of us working to gain salvation, he points out that God has done the work of creating believers for good works: “We are his workmanship” (v. 10).



  13. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 4:47 am


    I addressed your accusation of “historical collapse” and why I believe that is a false allegation. What I had said about the issue of the Catholic Church was that the members did not read the Bible in their own language. So, it is not fair to hold them liable for not having a good grasp of the Pauline gospel. Further, I mentioned that with the invention of the printing press the Bible was able to be printed in the common language and was available for parishioners to read.

    Also, it isn’t accurate to say that there is a 1500 year gap between Paul and Luther. Augustine (354-430) is looked back upon as the “father of the Reformation” and was profoundly impactful upon Luther, an Augustinian monk. In his disagreement with his contemporary Pelagius, Augustine argued that man was so depraved by nature that he was unable to even respond to God without God’s grace first reaching out to him. He did not view salvation as man cooperating with God, but rather man being entirely dependent upon God’s grace. It is no wonder that many Calvinists today embrace Augustine as one of their own. His teaching is very different than Robinson’s view of “partnering with Christ.”

    I want to apologize if you feel that I am “crucifying Mormons who read their religion into the New Testament.” I’m not trying to crucify you or any other LDS and I’m very sorry if I came across that way to you.

    I agree with you that one of the themes of the Book of Romans is the relationship of the gentile to the law. But, the overriding theme that I see in Romans is the twofold concepts of justification by faith (chapters 1 through 5) and sanctification (power over indwelling sin) by faith (chapters 6-17) with the parenthetical chapters 9 through 11 addressing Israel. Paul addresses the law in a different manner than he addresses works. Romans chapter 2 deals with both the Gentiles moralizers and the Jews. The Gentiles had formed a “law unto themselves” (2:14) and when they broke this they condemned themselves. Paul’s treatise on the law was to the Galatians—not the Romans. In that book he uses the word “law” over and over again. Romans 4 does not use “law” it uses the word “works.” Paul certainly would have understood the distinction. Further, it makes no sense to say that he was talking about the law with the example of Abraham because the law wasn’t even written at that point!

    For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. Rom. 4:2

    I believe that Paul was very clear when he used the word “works” or “deeds” he meant that very word. He uses “law” in other places when he is talking about the law. The sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac was not commanded in the law—it was an act of faith. So, when Paul is making the argument for grace vs works he is not saying grace vs. law.


  14. psychochemiker permalink
    October 28, 2009 5:24 am

    Hi Stephanie:
    Maybe I didn’t understand your apologetic, and I don’t think you understood my accusation. I’m not talking about Catholic historical collapse (and I think your apologetic is true for them), I’m really talking about everyone after Luther who has read anything Paul wrote not actually as what Paul wrote, but with Luther’s insertion of ALONE into the margin. If the Catholic leaders before Luther swung one way, Luther swung the other, and both ways are untextual readings INTO the text, rather than out-of.

    FWIW, I agree that the reformation was driven by the printing press, and that many good things came because of the reformation.

    Well, historically there was a 1500 year gap between Paul and Luther. Paul wrote about 50 AD, Luther wrote about 1550 AD. While Protestants try and link themselves to Augustine, so do Catholics, so I really don’t think the fact that some Protestants claim Augustine means that the gap between one belief and another is lessened. I mean, historically, it is quite well known that Augustine’s version of Christianity relied on sacraments, priesthood, and baptism for salvation. So it’s also a historical collapse to use Augustine’s writings as proof of the protestant “alone” that Luther added. Let’s remember how important infant baptism was to Augustine. Let’s remember Augustine’s quote: “God does not remit sins but to the baptized”.

    I also feel the semantics argument of works and deeds versus law sounds like a modern invention. Let’s see some evidence where Paul himself sets up a difference between the two. But I’m glad we’ve defined the difference, the assumption with which we read the text. So let’s compare this a bit longer. Should either party here be convinced by the other’s argument about the definitions of law, deeds, and works?

  15. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 10:20 am


    Thank you for clarifying what you were saying. I have to go to work so I’ll keep this brief and try to write more later.

    I know that you believe that justification is by faith. You just don’t believe it is by faith alone But this passage indicates that it is “not of works.”

    But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Rom. 4:5

    To me, the equation is justification=faith+not works.


  16. October 28, 2009 2:57 pm

    Once again, the Protestants are conflating justification with sanctification.

    Two different topics people.

  17. October 28, 2009 4:05 pm

    Hello all! 🙂 Have a busy week and not much time to comment, but wanted to jump in on this thread. AWESOME post, Stephanie.

    PC said, I also feel the semantics argument of works and deeds versus law sounds like a modern invention. Let’s see some evidence where Paul himself sets up a difference between the two

    Paul sets up the contrast in Rom. 3:27-28:

    “(27) Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. (28) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

    Here we see Paul using the term “law” in the sense of rule, arrangement, reason, or doctrine. When he says “by what law?” he is not referring to the Mosaic law. He is referring to “law” in general, the rule or mode or operation by which the justification is transacted. The contrast to works is faith. He does not say the contrast to faith is the Mosaic law. He sets up a juxtaposition between the doctrine of works and the doctrine of faith and concludes that we are justified by faith without the deeds of the law (ANY form of law that involves justification by works – compare with Gal 3:21). So, like Stephanie said above: The doctrine of justification by faith that Paul taught was faith without works or sola fide.

    Compare with Gal. 3:21: “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

    Here we see the contrast again between works and faith. This time Paul makes it clear that if righteousness could be obtained by any form of law (not just Mosaic) then justification would be by that law. Instead of a law, however, Paul says justification is by faith in Jesus Christ.

  18. October 28, 2009 6:36 pm

    But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Rom. 4:5


    Interesting that you bring up this verse. I don’t want to sidetrack your thread here, but this verse is very interesting. It is one that JS altered in his New Translation. He added the word not in. It reads:

    “But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not [emphasis mine] the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness."

    Personally, this seems like a bunch of "garbledy goop" to me. I shouldn't seek to be justified by works, but should believe in a God who does not justify the ungodly… how is there any comfort in that? For I am ungodly unless I stop sinning by denying myself of all unrighteousness (Moroni 10:32). I think I will stick with what The Bible actually says rather than trusting JS’s inspiration thank you.


  19. October 28, 2009 6:38 pm

    Sorry about the bold craziness above! I messed up a HTML code.

    Stephanie or Jessica, anyway to fix that?


  20. NChristine permalink
    October 28, 2009 7:05 pm


  21. NChristine permalink
    October 28, 2009 7:07 pm

    Hi PC,

    I think that’s a helpful distinction to make (i.e., is there a non-Mosaic-law “works” that is required for justification?), since it seems to clarify the dividing issue a bit. I have two responses regarding it.

    First, Paul actually does explicitly address the issue of non-Mosaic “works” in Romans 2, to which Stephanie alluded above. So does Paul allow for the idea of a non-Mosaic-Law type of works as part of justification? It seems in Romans 2 that—theoretically—he does! But that’s just the beginning of his argument. Here’s the passage:

    [God] will render to every man according to his deeds:

    To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and imnmortality, eternal life:

    But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;

    But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also of the Gentile (Romans 2:6-10).

    So theoretically, every person could gain “eternal life” by doing good. For the Jew, they would follow the Law of Moses, and for the Gentile, they would do right according to their conscience. Paul goes on to describe the non-Jew type of “works righteousness,” which I think would fit the category you described (i.e., works but not Mosaic Law):

    For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts… (Romans 2:14-15).

    So the Gentiles can theoretically attain a “works” righteousness by following a non-Mosaic law written on their hearts. [Interestingly, it seems that when Paul refers to “works” that is not also “law,” he just specifies a different type of “law,” as Jessica noted on Galatians. But that’s not my main point here.]

    But then Paul continues on with his description of Gentiles, and we find that they have the same problem as do the Jews. Their works, which might theoretically earn them eternal life, do not.

    …their [the Gentiles’] conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another (2:15).

    So apparently the Gentiles’ non-Mosaic works also fall short. And after Paul finishes picking apart the sin of both Jews and Gentiles, he shows that when he spoke of the accusing consciences, he meant all Gentiles had violated their consciences:

    We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one (3:9-10).

    So theoretically – yes, either following the Mosaic Law or following what one’s conscience says is right could lead to eternal life. But practically speaking, nobody has done it, and nobody can, and nobody will. That’s the whole point of Romans 1-3, isn’t it? Do re-read the passage and let me know if you think this interpretation is not true to what Paul is saying.

    But my second thought is this: You seem to be asking for proof that Paul doesn’t mean to say more than he says. That is, Paul says “by grace are ye saved, through faith,” and you asked for proof that he did not mean “by grace are ye saved, through faith plus (something else).” But is there any evidence that Paul meant more than he said here? I guess I’m asking because I am honestly doubtful that one could go through Paul’s argument in Ephesians 2:8-9 or Romans 4:5 and, line by line, explain his argument to mean something more than what it says. Do you think it is possible to interpret these crucial passages (or others), using Paul’s linear, logical style, in such a way as to add requirements other than faith? I am going to paste the verses below with spaces between lines for comment, so if you choose you can just cut, paste, and comment. I am not trying to “set you up” – I truly would like to see it done, as I think it would be clarifying. I am sure one could do it by giving a lengthy explanation such as a parable, as you mentioned, in which there is a closed system of thought external to the passage. But do you think it is possible to interact with the passages, line by line (just as Paul has written them), in a manner consistent with the “faith plus (something)” idea – without injecting foreign ideas into Paul’s arguments? I truly would be interested if you would do this.

    8For by grace are ye saved through faith;

    and that not of yourselves:

    it is the gift of God:

    9Not of works,

    lest any man should boast.

    5But to him that worketh not,

    but believeth on him

    that justifieth the ungodly,

    his faith is counted for righteousness.

  22. October 28, 2009 7:08 pm



  23. faithoffathers permalink
    October 28, 2009 8:20 pm

    Consider the fundamental nature of the evangelical view of our relationship with Christ. I submit that it is not dissimilar to a socialist economy. Does that sound crazy? Here is why-

    In this saved by faith alone view- a person expects another to do something for them that they can in part do for themselves. And that is the core of socialist thought. A person who submits to such economic principles says “If I can get away with somebody else paying for my food and clothes, I will.” There is a glaring insensitivity to the provider- a total lack of understanding of the cost and sacrifice. And, probably the most destructive result is the effect on the receiver- the loss of character and moral will.

    I could overcome my propensity to steal things from stores- plenty of people have overcome such behaviors. But under this gospel of helplessness, I just need to believe in Christ, and His righteousness wipes out the results of my kleptomanic tendancies. Sure- you may say that someone who truly believes will stop that behavior out of gratitude- but that really doesn’t affect the fundamentals I refer to in this gospel economy. It isn’t a strict requirement.

    Despite what some EVs claim, man can do good. He can stand and overcome many of his evil tendancies. And doing so makes him a more empathetic, humble, and stronger being. I can choose to look away from pornographic images. I can choose to think about my hungry neighbor instead of selfishly ignoring him.

    Man has agency and can do good things of his own choosing. Although it is impossible for him to save himself, he can overcome many things and many impulses. And insofar as he has the ability, he is expected to follow Christ and obey, putting off the natural man- this is a requirement to greatness and for salvation.

    If there is no primary relationship between our behavior and what Christ imputes to us, than there is no motivation to change that behavior. This creates a disassociation between Christ’s suffering and our sins. But we know that He did in fact suffer because of our sins and for our sins. Does it make sense than the more sins committed by mankind, the more Christ suffered? The more I sin, the more I caused Him to suffer. Therefore, if I committ fewer sins, the less I contribute to His suffering. And in reality, the more I show my gratitude for Him.

    In saying all of this, I do not claim that we can save ourselves- so don’t even start. The work Christ did for us and the work we do is different from a qualitative standpoint. He did a type of work that we are wholly unable to perform in this life. But we can do some work in changing ourselves and qualifying for the saving effects of the type of work He did.

    I too have used the bicycle analogy before. It is not without value, but it ultimately fails if a person takes it too far. We are expected to work and save for that bicycle. But our meager pennies do not actually go toward the real cost of that bike. We dearly need to earn those pennies with sweat and labor, even though they are not applied to the final bill of sale.


  24. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 8:49 pm


    I can understand what you are saying. Actually, the concept that you mentioned about justification by faith alone being like a socialist economy is a similar argument to one that Robinson uses in his book. But he uses the analogy of the LDS church’s welfare system.

    Individuals in need of temporal help are required to contribute all they can toward the desired goal. They are required to expend all their own resources, however great or small these may be. Then the Lord through the Church and its members adds whatever else may be necessary. When properly administered, the temporal arrangement is a partnership that meets an individuals honest needs while still demanding his or her best effort. [emphasis mine].

    Robinson compares our temporal welfare and needs to that of our spiritual welfare. He states that the gospel covenant “still demands our best efforts, assumes progress will be made, and aims at eventually making us self-sufficient as far as righteousness is concerned (p. 88-89). [emphasis mine]

    From a purely logical standpoint, I can see how your argument makes sense. In this world we have to work for every thing we get–really nothing is truly free. I think as humans we have a difficult time understanding how a holy God can justify sinful people and so we create a formula that makes sense to us using concepts that we understand from the natural world.

    I noticed that you didn’t engage Paul’s arguments at all. Your presentation makes sense from the LDS point-of-view, but does it jive with the New Testament? How do you take the verses on justification by faith not of works?


  25. October 28, 2009 9:06 pm

    We are justified by faith.

    But we are sanctified by works that are enabled by faith.

  26. NChristine permalink
    October 28, 2009 9:16 pm

    Hi Seth,

    How do you define “justification” and “sanctification”?

    Also, when you say we are sanctified by works, what do you make of Acts 26:18?

    “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”

    Or what about I Corinthians 1:30?

    “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” [That is, Christ is our sanctification as well as our justification.]

  27. October 28, 2009 9:16 pm

    If this is about to become a discussion of the relationship between faith and works in the process of sanctification, please allow me to shamelessly plug the Semitic Totality Concept. More thinking like first century Jews, less thinking like 21st century Westerners in an individualist, minimalistic society.

    Thank you.

  28. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 10:18 pm

    One more verse that comes to mind, Seth. 🙂

    Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Gal. 3:3

  29. October 28, 2009 11:14 pm

    Stephanie and Christine,

    Those verses are so open-ended that they could probably be used as support of just about anyone’s position.

  30. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 11:30 pm


    That comment is so vague and open-ended it could probably be used to support just about anyone’s position.

    Seriously though, Seth, I think you are a very smart person. I’ve read comments before where you have engaged your whole mind and come across as articulate and insightful. Why do I get the impression that you don’t want to engage in this topic or interact with the text? Why don’t you exegete the verses? Are you afraid that the New Testament teaching on justification contradicts LDS doctrine?


  31. October 28, 2009 11:48 pm

    Probably because I’m pretty-much funned out on this topic.

    We’ve debated over on Markcare’s weblog on this issue and come to a complete standstill with neither side getting anywhere at least a half dozen times (seriously – its like he never posts on any other topic). I’m more than satisfied with the Mormon responses to just about every angle Evangelicals take on this issue, and I’m thoroughly indifferent to the debate at this point.

    This whole grace vs. works angle usually boils down to pointless chicken-or-the-egg style exchanges with the Bible text providing absolutely zero clarification. Usually, these things end in rather retarded debates about whether Mormons have better self-esteem than Evangelicals with a bunch of tramautized ex-Mormon Evangelicals coming out to bloviate about how neurotic they were when they were in the Church and somehow that’s the Book of Mormon’s fault.

    Like I said, I’m all funned-out on this one, and have gotten to the point where I frankly no longer care about the issue from an interfaith dialogue standpoint.

  32. Stephanie permalink
    October 28, 2009 11:52 pm

    Like I said, I’m all funned-out on this one.

    Makes sense to me. I get that. 🙂

    I used to have Calvinist tendencies (don’t tell anyone) and can completely understand the feeling of going around and around and not getting anywhere in debates with people. I think the difference in those debates was that both parties would use Scripture to support their own viewpoint. In this case both you and fof have simply either kiboshed the whole thing or have come up with a “logical” argument against justification by faith. It seems to me that when a person is talking about the theology of Paul they should use the New Testament text!


  33. October 29, 2009 12:06 am

    Actually, we had a guy in the debates that did come up with an extensive Bible-backed scripture fest of stuff backing the Mormon position. He had kind of an abrasive personality. So mostly, the Evangelicals would whine about how mean he was to avoid dealing with the fact that the Bible wasn’t exactly coming through for them.

  34. Stephanie permalink
    October 29, 2009 12:19 am

    Well, Seth, right now the Bible isn’t exactly coming through for you either. 🙂 I can understand if you don’t want to talk about justification by faith. But to argue that some snarky Mormon had a good point but the whiny Evangelicals couldn’t take the heat just doesn’t do it for me.


  35. October 29, 2009 12:20 am

    Well… yeah…

    I’d be kinda disappointed if that was enough to ward you off.

  36. October 29, 2009 12:56 am


    I hope you are not talking about Ditchu… all he ever does is post verse after verse with absolutely no context or exegesis. I wouldn’t exactly say he does a good job at backing up Mormon Theology. It is more along the lines of playing scripture throw-up with no concern for contextual accuracy. Although is he rather snarky. 🙂


  37. October 29, 2009 1:05 am

    No, he’s talking about GB.

    And GB was mean. He pretty much called me a whore because I wear tank tops. I am not exaggerating in the slightest.

  38. October 29, 2009 1:13 am

    Sorry to hear that Jack. Sounds like legalism at its best.

    My old Bishop sent a young woman home from a Stake Dance one time because she had a whole in her jeans on her knee! No kidding… it wasn’t like the hole was on her tush or anything. It was on her knee! And he made her drive 20 minutes home to change and then she had to drive 20 minutes back to the dance. Her parents were livid.


  39. October 29, 2009 1:28 am

    It was legalism at its finest, Darrell. You should have heard (read?) him. He sounded like he was foaming at the mouth because I had the audacity to say our bare shoulders are not offensive to God. Horrors.

    The funny part is, the whole thing occurred because I made an off-handed comment about legalistic Mormons who ignore what the Word of Wisdom says about eating meat while looking down on non-members for wearing tank tops. Turns out that in GB’s case, I was 2 for 2.

    GB did have a decent grasp on actual Bible verses. Not historical or cultural context or translation nuances, but he could quote scriptures to support his positions on the fly, and the evangelicals there did make multiple fumbles on several issues. Being a jerk hurt his case though. There’s a delicate art to being a jerk and not totally turning people off to you altogether, and sorry to say, GB was a rank amateur.

  40. October 29, 2009 1:57 am

    “all he ever does is post verse after verse with absolutely no context or exegesis.”

    Sounds like other people I know. Really all you mean is that you don’t like the context he gives. But no, I wasn’t really talking about him.

    Like I said Stephanie, these things usually break down into ex-Mormon therapy sessions.

  41. October 29, 2009 1:58 am

    Agreed Jack.

    You’ll note I tended to kind of back off when he was in full steam. If he was going to fight like that, I wasn’t going to pitch in.

  42. October 29, 2009 2:08 am

    Yeah, I know Seth. You’re sensible like that, darn you.

  43. October 31, 2009 8:34 pm

    Oooh! Oooh! I remember GB. My favorite part was when he asked, “How would you feel if JESUS saw you in a tank top?”

    And you were like, “Jesus created my naked body. I’d feel just fine, thank you very much!”

    Hahahahahaha! He was the biggest [censored because I love Jessica and Stephanie and they don’t like the swears] EVER!

  44. October 31, 2009 8:49 pm


    Here’s a thought. Do you think reducing salvation to a formula is a little…I don’t know…trivializing?

    I definitely understand where you’re coming from and I definitely don’t want to nit-pick. I just wonder if, in a way, looking at salvation as a “formula” technical-izes (not a word, I know, but go with it) something that is really a beautiful mystery–perhaps the greatest miracle of all.

    I guess I say this because, to be quite honest with you, I don’t know whether it was my faith that caused my spiritual awakening and brought me to Christ…or if it was God drawing me to Him. I’m not sure who did what and when to make this change happen in my life–if it followed a “process” or a “formula” or even if it could be duplicatable in anyone else’s life.

    All I know is that it happened, and when it did, somehow I was enabled to love God more, have stronger faith in Him, and yes, serve Him more fully (i.e. do good works).

    I’ve come to trust that I’m in God’s hands, even if it’s difficult for me to describe or define how I got here; i.e., put it down in a simple formula.

    What do you think?

  45. Stephanie permalink
    October 31, 2009 9:28 pm


    I have to agree with you. I’m sorry to have implied that I believed a “formula” was what brought about salvation. I don’t believe that at all.

    The issue really comes down to a Calvinism vs. Arminianism type debate. Who acts first? God or man? Is faith a work? Certain passages of the Bible refer to God drawing people to Himself.

    No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:44

    And yet, clearly, we have been commanded to believe!

    And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 1 John 3:23

    How can God command us to do something which He doesn’t allow us to do? And essentially this boils down to the difference in views on Irresistible Grace. The Calvinist would assert that God is not dependent upon man’s cooperation in order to have success in his election. In other words God’s grace is invincible–unable to be resisted. On the other hand, the Arminian believes that the Holy Spirit is able to be resisted and that a person is able to oppose God’s grace. In the Arminian perspective, the one contribution that man can provide is faith. A true Calvinist would see this contribution as a work in that the man is unable to respond in faith without first being regenerated.

    I agree with you that we can not lay down an easy format for how people come to Christ. But neither can we make it complicated. The gospel is so simple that a child can understand it and so complex that theologians hash over the details. Over and over though the New Testament speaks of faith. Faith is what brings about justification, not works. And whether that faith is brought about first by regeneration or is brought about by the common grace of God I don’t know. But I do know that it is the essential and only element of justification.


  46. October 31, 2009 9:56 pm

    Oooh! Oooh! I remember GB. My favorite part was when he asked, “How would you feel if JESUS saw you in a tank top?”


    I’m pretty sure Jesus has seen me in much more compromising attire than a tank top.

  47. February 16, 2010 10:26 pm

    Enjoyed your blog on this topic. I have read a smattering of the responses. WoW. It is obvious a very live issue here. Great stuff. I did think Nick was a bit one-sided in his examples of logizomai. There are clear examples where the two are non-equivalent. For example ‘circumcision counts as uncircumcision’ In Roms 3.

    In Genesis close to the 15:6 reference to Abraham we read

    Gen 31:14-15
    And Rachel and Leah answered and said to him, Is there yet any portion or inheritance for us in our father’s house? Are we not reckoned of him strangers? for he has sold us, and has even constantly devoured our money.

    Here Laben regarded his daughters as strangers though clearly they are not.

    Reckoning or counting or regarding does not mean there must be a real equivalence between the two.

  48. February 20, 2010 1:53 am


    I did not intend to be ‘one sided’, but if a good case can be shown that I was then I’ll reconsider. Regarding “uncircumcision counted as circumcision” in Rom 2, that is the only passage that comes close to an alternate meaning for logizomai in all 40 times it occurs in the NT. I’ve gone over all the times it occurs in the NT and the usage is overwhelmingly in the manner I explained earlier. As for your looking to the OT, I’ve looked up all the times it’s used in the OT as well and the result is the same, overwhelmingly used as I originally stated.

    Even in the Gen 31 example you gave it supports my case, for reading it carefully you will see two possible interpretations: (1) they were reckoned as foreigners precisely because “for he has sold us, and has even constantly devoured our money,” meaning they were truly sold and thus truly disowned, making them truly foreigners; (2) alternatively, though equally likely, the father sinfully reckoned his own daughters as foreigners, and thus reckoned incorrectly.
    A similar example arises in Gen 38:15, where Judah ‘reckons’ his daughter-in-law a prostitute (because she dressed as one), but clearly he reckoned in error…and through reckoning incorrectly went on to do something he’d regret!!
    So these are two great examples of reckoning other than what something really is can often end up being self-deceived or even sinful.

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