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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Faith Alone? Paul's Reminder on the Need for Charity

To those who insist that faith alone is the key to salvation, I'd like to gently point to the beautiful words of Paul regarding charity in the opening lines of First Corinthians 13:

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
Even with great faith, Paul would be nothing if he did not have charity.

I've always been puzzled over the insistence by some folks that "faith alone" is the key to salvation. It puzzles me because the only time that phrase or anything close to it occurs in the Bible is when the Good Word warns us that justification is NOT by faith only: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." (James 2:24)

Yes, yes, yes, I understand that true faith leads us to Christ and to become more like Him in having charity, and that it leads to the works that are emphasized in so many parts of the Bible. But Paul is not writing to believers on autopilot who have nothing to worry abut once they believe. He is writing to believers who need to grow and repent and seek after the best gifts, such as charity, as part of their personal development in the journey through mortality. It is a journey where we can go forward or, if we choose to, regress and fall from grace. Paul just finished warning the Corinthian Christians about the danger of complacency in 1 Cor. 10 ("Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall"), and now reminds us that seeking charity is part of our journey. An essential part.

5 comments:

rameumptom said...

Jeff,
It is an issue of defining the terms involved: faith and saved.

From an LDS perspective, there are a variety of meanings for the word, "saved."

1. Saved from physical death. This is brought forth via the Lord's resurrection. It is a free gift that only required enough faith in the premortal existence to accept God's plan.

2. Saved from spiritual death. Here we have the issues of both Spirit Prison/Hell and Outer Darkness. Spirit Prison/Hell is a temporary situation, while Outer Darkness is eternal.
What is necessary to escape these? Faith in Christ's atonement, and repentance. Nothing else. One does not have to have charity or commandments (beyond faith and repentance). Once done, we are rescued from spiritual death (see Alma 36 for an example of rescue from hell during a near death experience, or the thief on the cross with Christ who would be that day in Paradise). Through the blood of Christ, we are justified or made guiltless, through faith and repentance. period.

3. Exaltation, or a fullness of salvation. This is obtained by going through the sanctification process. As we develop faith, and go from grace to grace receiving grace for grace (D&C 93), we receive greater infusions of the Holy Ghost, which fills us and changes us into holier beings (see Mosiah 5:1-4). As the Spirit dwells within us, charity becomes a natural outcome. So does keeping all the other commandments. As we become holy, we become worthy or able to receive greater and greater glory/grace, until we are able to receive a fullness.

So, the traditional idea of salvation by faith alone is not incorrect. It is just incomplete.

Rich said...

Hi rameuptom,
I mostly agree with what you said. It is a problem of defining terms but more then just the 2 you mentioned. Especially when many Christians consider what we call exaltation to be salvation. So that, to me, is where I differ a little here. Many Christians view any work we could do as earning salvation and not needed. These are the faith alone that Jeff is referring to. A better understanding of the gospel brings us to what you described and that is where I would definitely agree that the understanding is not incorrect but incomplete.

Bookslinger said...

Jeff, just a minor nit to pick, rather than the opening lines of 1st Corinthians, those are the opening lines of 1st Corinthians chapter 13.

Brother John said...

But wait... You must not cite James. As any good Baptist can tell you, the opinion of James does not count. Only the teachings of Paul have any validity. The only other possibility is that reading the Bible does not necessarily mean understanding it correctly. I speak as a former Baptist. I joined the Church in high school almost 50 years ago.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Fixed that, Bookslinger. Sorry for the slip.