A “Catholic” Flavored Commentary on Romans: Chapter 6

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Before the Council of Trent, Augustine, Chrysostom, and others had no problem elucidating ideas most clearly represented today by Reformed theologians.  In Chapter 6, Paul answers everyone’s big question: if we are really saved by faith alone, irrespective of works of the Law or any good works, why not just sin?

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6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?

This rhetorical question asked by an imaginary (probably Jewish) audience makes perfect sense in light of the discussion in chapters four and five. If following the Law or any good works does not make one righteous (Rom 4:3-6), and if the Law was added to make sin more apparent (Rom 5:20, Rom 7:13), why not sin? Doesn’t it magnify God’s grace? Doesn’t it not make a difference in the end if all sins are paid for on the cross? Why not sin so grace may abound?

It is a valid question in light of the fact that Paul just clearly demonstrated to us that a Christian’s justification has already been achieved by faith before any works have been done. If our righteousness is a present reality divorced from the necessity to do anything good to keep it that way, then what incentive do we have to live faithfully?

The obvious answer is living faithlessly is not faithful at all.

When Paul admonishes the Philippians that they should “not look out for” their “own personal interests, but also the interest of others” (Phil 2:4), he does not say “or you will not maintain your salvation” or “you will fall short from doing the works needed for salvation.” Rather, he gives the example of Christ who instead of looking to His own interests “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil 2:6-7). Christ looked out for the interest of others by dying on the cross in their place. Christ did not take advantage of His position, just as we ought not to take advantage of our position (that we are saved by faith and not by obedience to works). After saying this Paul says:

So then, [i.e. in light of what was just said] my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

So, we work out our salvation not because we might not be saved if we do not, but because the Holy Spirit that works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure will put it in our minds to “have this attitude in” ourselves “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). To Paul, it is a metaphysical impossibility for a real Christian, who actually lives by faith, not to work out one’s salvation with the humility that Christ Himself shown us by dying for us.

Immediately after verse 13 of Philippians, Paul writes:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil 2:14-15).

Finally, we get the point of Paul’s admonishment starting in verse four of that letter. What we can see is that Paul is not encouraging us to be like Christ because it plays a role in our justification, but rather it proves our faith to others. It can even be useful for proving it to oneself because we ought to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).

It should not surprise us that when adding additional moral admonishments in the same Epistle Paul writes, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (Phil 3:15-16). Perfection is a status which we have already attained. Having attained this status, let us therefore live in accordance with it. Our motivation to do good works should relate to the fact that it corresponds to an reality that already exists, not so that we can make it exist or maintain its existence.

Think about it. How is it possible for the Philippians to already be perfect? How can those who live imperfectly, though faithful, actually be perfect? For our perfection does not rely upon the fruit of our faith, but the metaphysical and invisible reality that our deficient fruits of faith reflect: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Where the Spirit is, there is the imputation of God’s own righteousness in His Son. It is a final, finished act. The fruit are witnesses of the existence of the Holy Spirit and the metaphysical perfection we have attained already.

Proof of this can be seen in Gal 3:13-14:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

As many as are perfect are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and this perfection is attained by faith:

This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (Gal 3:2-3)?

No, we are not being perfected by works done in the flesh. We are perfected by the work of the Spirit which we receive by faith.

This led Marius Victornius to claim that those of us who have faith in Christ actually are Jesus Christ, presumably by union with Him:

Now, because you are one with the reception of the Spirit from Christ, you are Christ. You are therefore sons of God in Christ (Commentary on Galatians, Gal 3:29).

But you have been baptized in Christ Jesus, you have received Christ, and you are Christ; you are therefore the seed of Abraham. If an inheritance was promised to the seed, the inheritance was given to you as well, and you are heirs according to the promise (Commentary on Galatians, Gal 3:30).

2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

If we “are Christ” in the sense Marius Victorinus teaches, and Christ died on the cross and all our sins were nailed to it, then we have been resurrected with Christ to new life. And if that is the case, we are already dead to our sin and alive in Christ. How is it then possible to continue living in sin? Paul asserts that it is literally a metaphysical impossibility for the person in Christ to continue in Adam, living in accordance to the sinful nature that hates God.

On a more practical level Aquinas comments, “If we are dead to sin, we ought not live in sin.” How does the practical align with the metaphysical? There is a profound reason for this, as Paul now details:

3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

As we can see, Paul gives the answer that we have anticipated based upon our exegesis of Galatians 3 and its ramifications as said to us by Marius Victorinus. Those baptized by the Holy Spirit have in a true sense died with Christ, so just as Christ literally died so has sin in us.

Chrysostom concurs:

Wherefore he does not say…‘but in the likeness of His Death.’ For both the one [death of Christ’s body] and the other [death of our sin] is a death, but not of the same subject; since the one is of the Flesh, that of Christ; the other of sin, which is our own. As then that is real, so is this.

5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,

In the same way, we too might if we are indeed faithful in Christ, walk in newness of life as certainly as Christ did when He resurrected.

6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

Here comes the application: We are dead to sin by virtue of our union with Christ, with our sins imputed to Him and nailed to the cross. Therefore, our body of sin has been already “done away with.” “Knowing this” present spiritual reality that “he who has died is freed from sin,” we ought not to sin.

The reason we should do this is two fold: First, if we do sin it conveys that we do not believe the reality of what Christ has done for us. Second, those who are truly dead to sin are also truly alive and therefore live according to the Holy Spirit (Rom 8). So, the Spirit will see to it that we do not sin.

8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

If we have faith in Christ and thereby believe that we really died with Him, then we must also believe that we shall live resurrected lives as surely as He is resurrected. We must remind ourselves that death can never reclaim Christ, so therefore sin cannot reclaim us. If we are truly in Christ we cannot continue in sin, or we were never in Christ to begin with. Remember, the Scripture says that the righteous shall live by faith, not the righteous shall talk about their faith.

11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

By our works, we in a sense consider the reality we have already achieved by living it out.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts,13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

So, living by faith one does not commit deeds of faithlessness (a life typified by sin and death instead of obedience and life). If one lives in sin, then sin is one’s master and not Christ. This would make one’s faith in Christ nominal and imaginary.

To the contrary, if one lives with Christ as his master and does not sin, then it is evident he is indeed faithful. If this be the case, then he is under grace and not under the curse of the Law. Works act as the mirror that we may look at to see if Christ is really in our lives.

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

Paul essentially answers the same objection, the one posed in verse 1, a second time here. The first time he responds that those dead to sin cannot continue living in it. In other words, one proves to be faithless and their baptism false if one does not live according to the understanding that his sin is dead now as a consequence that Christ, who is in his body, was once dead.

This time, Paul’s response is a little less esoteric: if you continue in sin, you present yourself as a servant of sin. This is inconsistent with one’s profession of faith in God. Hence, being a slave to obedience does result in righteousness, not because the works themselves merit the righteousness (“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy,” Titus 3:5), but because the slavery to obedience is the outworking of living by faith. Indeed, living by faith is what credits one with righteousness.

Hence, by one’s actions we can see who one’s master really is.

17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Paul commends the Romans, and thereby us, if we live as slaves of righteousness because it is proof that in Christ we have been freed from sin. It is important to say again, Paul does not assert that obedience is the cause of our being freed from sin. Rather, faith in Christ has accomplished the reality for the Roman Christians of being freed from sin and as a result they “became slaves of righteousness.”

19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul recapitulates what he said in simpler “human terms.” The result of sin and what its wages clearly deserve is death, while the result of obedience (the living of true faith) is righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

Sanctification according to most Protestants occurs after the moment of justification and it continues as a process. The Scripture does not speak of sanctification in this sense. Paul writes, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). Sanctification refers to God setting us apart upon repentance and belief, not to a process in which we increase in holiness after belief.

Therefore, in Rom 6:19 and 22, sanctification occurs simultaneously upon belief in Christ. Why? All those who have faith are justified. Further, all those who have been justified have likewise been sanctified. “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb 10:14). So, sanctification is not an increase in holiness but a state that is achieved for Christians by Christ’s finished work on the cross. After the attaining of “perfection” (i.e. justification) Christians may increase in holiness of living regardless.

On a side note, another debated term is “regeneration.” The term regeneration, according to Reformed Theologians, refers to the working of the Holy Spirit upon a believer so he is now enabled to accept Christ (Acts 16:14, Ezek 36:26-27). The word itself is only used in a relevant context once, in Titus 3:5.

Here is the whole context of the idea in question:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

Unlike the term sanctification, it appears that the term regeneration has been properly applied from its biblical meaning amongst the Reformed. Our salvation is indeed not on the basis of deeds “done in righteousness.” Paul does not say “righteousness done apart from faith” or “self-righteousness.” He simply says “not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness.”

So on what basis are we saved? “According to His mercy.” How is this done? “By the washing and renewing by the Holy Spirit…so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs.” There is not a single verse in the Bible where the term “justification” is said to be attained by anything other than faith. So, when Catholic critics point out judgement is by works, they are correct in this, but we cannot conflate judgement with justification. They are clearly two different things.

We may surmise in Titus 3:5-7 that justification and regeneration are conflated. Paul does not say “by the washing and renewing by the Holy Spirit…so that being baptized into His grace,” but rather he says “justified by His grace.” So, the passage is not about baptism, it is about justification.

If justification is by faith, and the washing and the renewing of the Holy Spirit is concurrent with justification, then we must conclude that with regeneration there is faith. The Scripture does not speak of infants that are regenerate from baptism, but not old enough to have faith.

In fact, verse 8 of Titus takes for granted that those mentioned in verses 5 through 7 are faithful adults that he encourages to do good works: “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.”

Obviously, infants cannot take care to engage in good deeds.

So, taken as a whole, in verse 5 we are made just before God apart from deeds of righteousness. Rather, it is by regeneration which is concurrent with our faith. So, the washing and renewing of the Holy Spirit, and not what we literally do, is what makes us righteous in God’s eyes. This being the case, it is a trustworthy statement that even though you are saved by grace and justified through faith, you ought to be careful to engage in good deeds!

To shoehorn in an interpretation about baptismal regeneration, when the context of the passage speaks nothing about it makes us miss the whole message: even though our salvation does not depend upon our good works, we should still do them.

Marius Victorinus–Early Champion of “Protestant” Doctrines

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Many Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists assert that Protestant doctrines such as “Faith Alone” are novelties. However, this often comes at the cost of ignoring very plain statements of many men in the early Church.

victorinus galatians

One interesting case of a theologian who argued in favor of sola fide is Marius Victorinus. A trained Neo-Platonist philosopher he was so famous and widely published that when Augustine read Aristotle as a child, well guess what…Victornius was the translator!

Victorinus was probably the first super-heavyweight intellectual converted to Christianity. While great thinkers that came before him (Justin Martyr, Tertullian, etcetera), they did not have the widespread acclaim nor secular achievements that Victorinus did. The story about how Victorinus went from respected philosopher to Christian is covered in detail in Book XII of Augustine’s Confessions.

Now, this does not make Victorinus a better theologian. However, he was notable enough that when he undertook a litany of commentaries on Paul’s Epistles (the very first, especially in Latin), immediately afterward several men began trying to best him or improve upon his work. This includes Ambrosiaster, Jerome, Chrysostom, Augustine, among others roughly in that order.

This should lead us to two important points:

  1. Being that Victorinus is first, if you want to know what the oldest traditional interpretation was, he’s the guy to go to.
  2. Being that no one subsequently declared Victorinus, or his methods, heretical or “untraditional,” his conclusions were considered within the pale of Orthodoxy.

The fact that Jerome and Augustine carefully responded to Victorinus on points showed that his exegesis was something that was respected and had to be responded to with care. Further, most of the disagreement was not on the issue of faith, but on Victorinus’ interpretation of Paul’s disagreement with Peter…so, they were not seeking to correct him on the issue we are concerning ourselves with here.

So, what did Victorinus write? Presently, I have only got “my hands on” his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. In the translator’s notes, it appears the Victorinus pretty much said the same stuff in his other commentaries about several important things. I would like to return to Victorinus in the future, but for now we will just cover pertinent points of his Galatians commentary:

There is no great difficulty in obtaining his grace, if we just follow him, believing that he accomplished these things by his Mystery and that he did it gratis, without labour or great works. Because this was accomplished for us by him (In reference to Gal 1:6).

Grace requires no works and righteousness is accomplished by Him, not us.

After these points, Paul gives other arguments that justification comes about based on Christ, not on the Law or on works (Gal 1:12).

Victorinus understood Paul properly. Paul wasn’t just writing against the Jewish Law, but the idea that any good work that a man does puts God in his debt. Such doctrine Paul calls “accursed.”

Because when he said he saw no one else of the apostles except James, the reason was also included why he saw James: the Lord’s brother, the one regarded as his brother according to the flesh (Gal 1:19).

Victorinus appears to be in agreement with Tertullian that Mary’s virginity was not perpetual.

For faith itself alone grants justification and sanctification. Thus any flesh whatsoever—Jews or those from the Gentiles—is justified on the basis of faith, not works or observance of the Jewish Law (Gal 2:16).

Again, both works and the Law are two mutually exclusive things and neither avail a man.

This is truly to live spiritually: that although one lives in the flesh, one does not live on account of the flesh or based on the flesh. Rather, one lives to God and to Christ by faith in them. This is what it means to live spiritually: to meditate on Christ, to speak of him, to believe him, to direct one’s desires toward him; to flee the world, to expel from one’s mind all things which are in the world. This is what it means to live by faith: to hope for no other good than what is from Christ and from God (Gal 2:20).

Faith works through love, but it is thoughts of the mind more than the actions of the body that are emphasized. Further, “one does not live on account of the flesh” because one must account oneself as spiritual. Therefore, we live according to the Spirit as a matter of living up to what we have already had accomplished in us, not in order to earn something.

For then will it have been enacted on our behalf, enacted for our resurrection and liberation, if we but have faith in Christ and in the Mystery of Christ. For by this treatment of Abraham, the divine reality set out beforehand and gave advance notice that human beings would be justified based on faith. As it was accounted to Abraham as justice, then, because he had faith, therefore, if we have faith in Christ and his whole Mystery, we too will be children of Abraham. This means that our whole life will be accounted to us as justice (Gal 3:7).

If we have faith, our whole life is accounted as just. It’s an imputed, forensic righteousness, so that upon the judgment of works we have a perfect record in Christ!

He [Paul] aims to prevent the Galatians from…believing that as long as they retained faith in Christ, something further could still be advantageous for them, if they would perform something based on works as well. To the contrary, the apostle denies that any blessing comes about on the basis of works; he states rather—and this is even more serious, and opposed to a blessing— that those who carry on their lives based on works are under a curse (Gal 3:9).

It is not Faith + Works according to Victorinus. Here, he categorically denies it.

For all things come about on the basis of faith: the promise was given to Abraham based on faith, and thus to his seed as well (Gal 3:20).

All things come about on the basis of faith–did Luther write that? Oh wait, no, this is from the fourth century.

Now, because you are one with the reception of the Spirit from Christ, you are Christ. You are therefore sons of God in Christ (Gal 3:29).

Victorinus makes an important point–when we have faith, we have the Holy Spirit. Indwelt with the Spirit, God literally accounts us as His Son, as the Spirit puts us in a literal union with Him and shares all His qualities.

But you have been baptized in Christ Jesus, you have received Christ, and you are Christ; you are therefore the seed of Abraham. If an inheritance was promised to the seed, the inheritance was given to you as well, and you are heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:30).

We “are Christ,” so upon the judgment we are judged as righteous in Christ.

Because Mary is or was a virgin… (Gal 4:4)

Again, Victorinus voices doubts that Mary was perpetually a Virign…Perhaps he would be considered a heretic today by modern Catholics while in Augustine’s day he was a great hero of the Christian faith.

Because Christ, although he himself was what those under the Law were, taught in a different manner, and for the sake of salvation departed from the Law by not observing the sabbath and other things. From this they would know not to hope for salvation based on the Law or its works. Whence the Galatians too might understand that they have fallen into an error, if indeed the Saviour himself, in whom they have believed, was made under the Law, though nevertheless not subservient to it. (Gal 4:4).

Victorinus, as do several other Church Fathers, believe that Jesus broke the Law when He did not follow Sabbath observances. I disagree obviously. If Paul meant this, he would have just said it and it would have settled the issue. Because he didn’t, it pretty much proves that Christ was fully obedient to the Law.

If one is given the name son, according to the previous discussion, one is also an heir, not, though, by things done or by one’s works, rather by the mercy and grace of God. This is Paul’s implication, that it is rather through God, just as has been demonstrated in many passages: that it is not of the one who runs but of the one who shows mercy, and that all things are through the grace of God (Gal 4:7).

Our righteousness comes from God, not by what we do.

Although they accepted Christ from Paul, and they took up faith in Christ (and this is the true gospel), they clearly supposed that they were not going to get enough from Christ—which already smacks of blasphemy and their lack of faith. This is why after the acceptance of Christ, they desired to get circumcised and devote themselves to the Law and its workings. If this is the situation, their faith in Christ is non-existent; because if there is a lack of faith, or the presence of a little and therefore practically non-existent faith, that would be the basis for adding on some other potentially beneficial thing. Rightly, Paul says Christ will avail you nothing (Gal 5:2).

Victorinus issues a warning: adding anything to faith makes faith “non-existent.” If you think that faith alone is not enough to cover your sins, then “Christ will avail you nothing.” If you find yourself as one of those people, repent and trust in Christ.

For the whole power of the Mystery has worked to this effect: that an indulgence of sins would come about for us through the grace and mercy of God, and that eternal life would be supplied, as we have often taught, on the basis of God’s grace, not works or merits. But this happens through the Spirit. On the other hand, when one hopes for justification on the basis of one’s works, the hope is not based on the Spirit. Hope based on the Spirit is what we await, and this is what it means to follow the gospel of Christ (Gal 5:5).

Forgiveness of sins is not by works, but through the work of the Holy Spirit. So, if we give alms, confess, or do anything else as a fruit of the Spirit, we do well. If we do these things because we think that if we don’t we won’t attain forgiveness, then our hope is not based on the Spirit and there is no forgiveness of sins.

For faith liberates, and anyone, as we have said, who hopes for help in any way besides Christ, even if it be along with Christ, does not have faith (Gal 5:9).

The scariest words for Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are the above. Even if you account yourself as in Christ, if you hope in anything else other than faith you do not have faith. And, if you do not have faith you are still dead in your sins.

Please prayerfully consider what Victorinus wrote. Go ahead and find Jerome’s and Augustine’s commentary. You will not find them contradicting the above. The above once was fully accepted Catholic faith and it caused little controversy. Now, it would be considered heretical. Was Victorinus a heretic though no one thought him to be in the early Church or are your faiths greatly deviated from the historic, universal faith of the Church? Pray to the Lord for wisdom and do your research!

Long Hair IS NOT the Head Covering!

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Ever wonder why people think long hair constitutes a proper head covering? A cursory reading of 1 Cor 11 shows us that having a head uncoveredis even all one as if she were shaven.”  Being that Paul can even make the comparison shows that having an uncovered head and being bald are two mutually exclusive things. Therefore, having long hair and having a covering likewise are two different things.

So, without going into bad historical arguments that proponents of “the long hair as the covering” people will get into, we can see on textual grounds that the traditional interpretation concerning head coverings is correct. Because the whole issue is so simple, it appears to me the only real reason people do not follow the Biblical custom of head covering is simply out of rebellion against God.

As evidence of this, my witnesses are all of the proponents of “long hair is the covering.” How are they my witnesses you may ask? Simply quiz them: can a woman go to church with short hair if she wants to?

“Sure,” they say, “That’s a Christian freedom.” 

Can you use beer and grape soda for the Lord’s Supper?

“Well, no, it says use bread and wine.”

Can we give up on baptism?

“No, the apostles baptized.”

Then, can we give up on head covering?

“Well, we are head covering, you just have it all wrong, long hair is the covering.”

But, you just said a woman did not need long hair, so you are actually not intent on following head covering at all.

“Well, it’s a cultural thing…”

 

 

As we can see, the fact that the proponents of dumping head covering don’t actually believe in enforcing long hair is proof that none of them really believe long hair is the covering. So, they have no choice but to change their reasoning to either “historical context” or accusations of legalism.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think not fornicating, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, or doing anything else the Bible tells me to do is legalism. Doing these things in order to merit my salvation is legalism, not the things themselves. This is simple and important. If we cannot discern the difference between legalism and obedience, on what consistent basis can we follow anything the Bible says is right?

Obviously, there would be no consistent basis. This is why we know that the opponents of head covering are wrong.

A Response to “Did Calvin Deny Christ’s Sinlessness”

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Joe Heschmeyer of the Shameless Popery blog recently wrote an article which asserts that Reformed Theology is implicitly heretical as it turns Jesus Christ into a sinner. As the resident “Protestant objector” in the comments section of the website, along with having a website with the words “Reformed Theology” right in it, I feel compelled to write a rebuttal to his article.

Before I embark on this, first a note about me: while stereotypically I can be classified as “reformed” or a “Calvinist,” I must admit I have not read a great deal of Calvin. While I enjoy a steady diet of James White and R.C. Sproul via audio and video, I have read none of their books. The vast majority of my reading is simply the Bible. Most of my extra-biblical “joy reading” is the Church Fathers, especially Augustine. I have honestly dabbled much more extensively in Aquinas than anything of Calvin’s. So, I am classified as a Calvinist simply because the doctrines which I argue are consistently found in the Bible, and elucidated in Christian tradition, happen to be called “Calvinist” today. As for Calvin, I really do not understand the man all that well.

That being said, onto Joe’s article. He begins:

In theology, the term for this post-Fall inclination towards sin is “concupiscence.” Man finds in himself simultaneously:

  1. A wound that can only be healed by Christ, and a hunger that can only be satisfied by Him; and yet
  2. An inclination towards evil, leading to various temptations to fill that void with some good other than God

We can all agree on this, let’s move on.

Some Christian heresies, like Pelagianism and Modernism, have gone awry by failing to take concupiscence seriously….But there’s an opposite error as well: to exaggerate concupiscence. And it’s this error that Reformed Christianity, commonly called Calvinism, falls into.  Calvinism tends to exaggerate the severity of concupiscence (treating it as sin, rather than mere temptation) as well as its pervasiveness (treating man as nothing more than concupiscence).

Here, Joe sets his sights on the doctrine of “total depravity.” Allow me to simply put forward what Paul said in Rom 7:19-20:

For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

So, the inherent presence of a sinful nature, referred to in Paul’s language as “the flesh,” is a persistent and real problem as it causes man to sin. Man’s will is deficient to do anything about it, as Calvinist doctrine dictates. Where is our victory? “Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25)

Augustine, who Joe quotes in support of the correct notion that being tempted is not sin because sin requires assent of the will, elsewhere shows us there is a bit more to the picture (that Joe leaves out.) “For the good is incomplete when one lusts, even although a man does not consent to the evil of lust,” writes Augustine in Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Book I, Chapter 19. Augustine continues in the next chapter, “[H]e [Paul] had said, ‘ringing me into captivity’ in the flesh, not in the mind; in emotion, not in consent; and therefore ‘bringing me into captivity,”‘ because even in the flesh there is not an alien nature, but our own.

Augustine continues:

For when he says also, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:24 who can deny that when the apostle said this he was still in the body of this death? And certainly the wicked are not delivered from this, to whom the same bodies are returned for eternal torment. Therefore, to be delivered from the body of this death is to be healed of all the weakness of fleshly lust, and to receive the body, not for penalty, but for glory (Chapter 23).

Hence, in Rom 7 and Augustine’s exegesis, even when Godly men such as the Apostles did not consent to such lusts (Chap 26), simply not consenting is not good enough. Man, in his nature, is flawed and needs deliverance. Those not healed look forward to eternal torment. In Christ, though the flesh is still there the flesh is done away with as “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50). We are resurrected as heavenly, spiritual (yet physical) bodies.

Now, all of this seems like a really long aside, but what I am trying to show is that Joe and Calvin are speaking past each other. The meat of Calvinism is that man, in his very nature is flawed and this is visible in concupiscence which ultimately manifests itself in sin. It is for this reason that Paul literally writes that “sin dwells in me.” It isn’t “mere concupiscence,” so one may say, “So what? Concupiscence hasn’t damned anybody!” Nothing can be farther from the truth! As Augustine recognized reading Paul, concupiscence must be done away with or man will be damned. Jesus Christ brings deliverance from the condition, even from those who have not consented to it’s lusts.

Joe continues:

Calvin can fall into the basic Christological heresy of denying Christ’s sinlessness.

Key word is “can.” Let’s see if he does…

For Calvin, on the other hand, merely being tempted to sin is a sin.

In support of this conclusion, Joe quotes Calvin saying, “We again regard it as sin whenever man is influenced in any degree by any desire contrary to the law of God; nay, we maintain that the very gravity which begets in us such desires is sin” (Joe’s emphasis).

Interestingly enough, it is where Joe’s emphasis stops that reveals where Joe does not understand Calvin’s point. “[T]he very gravity which begets in us such desires is sin.” Not being a Calvin expert (but having a decent handle of Rom 7), the term gravity is being used just like we would say, “The problem is at it’s core, X, Y or Z.” Calvin is saying that sin is at the core of concupiscence. This is exactly what Paul says in Rom 7:20. So, it is a true point, a point which Joe misses and then objects to certain imagined ramifications of the idea that mere temptation is supposedly sin to a Calvinist.

In opposition to Joe’s caricature of John Calvin’s Christology and reduction of temptation as sin, it is of particular interest that Calvin explictly denies Joe’s argumentation. As if he anticipated an article on ShamelessPopery.com would be written about him some day, when commenting on Matt 4:2 he writes:

But, at first sight, it appears strange, that Christ was liable to the temptations of the devil: for, when temptation falls on men, it must always be owing to sin and weakness. I reply: First, Christ took upon him our infirmity, but without sin, (Hebrews 4:15.) Secondly, it is justly reckoned a weakness of human nature, that our senses are affected by external objects. But this weakness would not be sinful, were it not for the presence of corruption; in consequence of which Satan never attacks us, without doing some injury, or, at least, without inflicting a slight wound. Christ was separated from us, in this respect, by the perfection of his nature; though we must not imagine him to have existed in that intermediate condition, which belonged to Adam, to whom it was only granted, that it was possible for him not to sin. We know, that Christ was fortified by the Spirit with such power, that the darts of Satan could not pierce him.

So, clearly Calvin did not regard temptation as sin, but he like Paul knew that man’s temptation to sin is not purely from his nature, but also from the flesh. In the flesh dwells sin. The inclinations of the flesh are called concupiscence. That is the necessary connection, the same connection that Joe does not make.

Joe continues:

What’s the point in resisting temptation, if by being tempted you’re already guilty?

Because the Spirit compels us to resist temptation. Joe might resist temptation in order to avail himself from judgment. In my view, I resist temptation because by faith in Christ I have His Spirit. In short, I resist temptation because I have been availed from judgement.

Interestingly enough, that is exactly the answer Paul gives in Rom 7:24-25 and Rom 8:1. Paul, the man who admits to sinning (specifically coveting, Rom 7:7), has deliverance not because he can completely stop. He wants to, but he cannot. He has deliverance, because Jesus Christ died for Him and resurrected, thereby delivering him from death!

Joe: In Book II, Chapter I of Institutes, he calmly explains that God hates unborn children, because they (like all of us) are seed-beds of sin, odious and abominable to God…

Yet, the church fathers like Augustine and Prosper of Aquataine taught that all unbaptized infants go to hell. If God is not punishing sin in these infants, then why do they go to hell? Better question: Why baptize infants if their sin was not a serious affront to God? What would they need to be delivered from?

As Augustine details in the first few pages of the Confessions, the inherent sin in a human being is readily apparent early on. Augustine concludes, “The only innocent feature in babies is the weakness of their frames, the minds of infants are far from innocent” (Confessions, Chapter 1, Chap 11). The fact that Augustine locates guilt in the mind and teaches that infants will, if not regenerated, go to hell, makes it pretty clear that he is far closer to Calvin on the issue than Joe.

Joe continues:

[Calvin] he tries to explain Christ’s prayer [“let this cup pass…”] in the Garden, he can only account for it by assuming that Christ momentarily forgot about our salvation, and had to be rebuked (by Himself) for it…

I underlined the words “forgot” and “rebuked,” because they are loaded and not used by Calvin. Calvin writes that the prayer was not “premeditated” and “leaving out view the divine purpose.” This means Jesus was speaking in accordance with His emotions.

Aquinas concurs in the Summa Theologica: “And, indeed, such was Christ’s obedience, for, although His Passion and death, considered in themselves, were repugnant to the natural will, yet Christ resolved to fulfill God’s will with respect to the same” (Part 3, Question 47, Article 2).

Christ was righteous in all His ways. Though weighed down by temptations and emotions, He did not for a moment yield to them because He is God after all. Calvin calls this an “immediate…correction.”

In short, as Augustine points out, “Christ thus as man shews a certain private human will…[T]hough God’s will is other, this is permitted to human frailty” (Quoted in Aquinas Study Bible).

Joe can just as easily read the word “forgot” and “rebuked” into Augustine’s discussion of Jesus’ “human frailty.” However, we know that is not what Augustine meant and nothing in what Calvin wrote would lead us to conclude the same.

Joe continues his conspiracy theory that Calvin thinks Jesus had a momentary lapse in divinity and said something sinful:

He hadn’t intended to pray, and quickly corrected Himself. Commenting on the next verse, Calvin says that “We see how Christ restrains his feelings at the very outset, and quickly brings himself into a state of obedience.”

Yet, simply read how Calvin explains himself:

When the dread of death was presented to his mind, and brought along with it such darkness, that he left out of view every thing else, and eagerly presented that prayer, there was no fault in this. Nor is it necessary to enter into any subtle controversy whether or not it was possible for him to forget our salvation. We ought to be satisfied with this single consideration, that at the time when he uttered a prayer to be delivered from death, he was not thinking of other things which would have shut the door against such a wish.

Joe takes offense at this, because it appears to entertain the notion that Jesus could have forgotten something. Calvin appears not to think that such an idea is serious, but is insistent in his assertion that Jesus’ human nature and inherent mortal limitations resulted in a guiltless outburst of anguish.

This gets into a whole issue of whether Jesus Christ, in the human flesh, is omniscient. Most Protestants don’t believe He was. I am unsure of the Catholic position, but I would align myself more with Aquinas and say that when Jesus Christ exhibits Kenosis, He is exhibiting His human nature and condescending Himself to man, but not necessarily shedding omnisicience or anything of the sort. Calvin writes, “There would be no impropriety, therefore, in saying that Christ, who knew all things, was ignorant of something in respect to his perception as a man.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I am not even sure if that is considered heretical to Joe.

Joe sums up his discussion with the idea that Jesus being sinful is “an inherent part” of Calvinism. In Calvinism, “Christ can’t be both sinless and man.”

However, did Joe prove any of these points? Not from Calvin, nor other Reformed thinkers. In fact, he had to pain himself to twist Calvin’s interpretations to make it fit this sort of idea that Calvin explicitly rejects. The evidence simply is not there.

In this whole discussion on concupiscence, I think what Joe needs to do is exegete the relevant passages in Rom 7. In my humble view, this is at the very heart of the controversy.

A “Catholic” Flavored Commentary on Romans: Chapter 5

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Before the Council of Trent, Augustine, Chrysostom, and others had no problem elucidating ideas most clearly represented today by Reformed theologians. In Chapter 5, Paul fleshes out the idea of Original Sin in order to show that the “Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:21).

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5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Paul appears to have made his point in the first four chapters of Romans: all men alike are under sin and the only way to be saved is to believe in Jesus Christ. Being that this is rather a simple matter of trust, we have peace with God.

Connecting with Rom 4:17 (“God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist”) verse 2 reiterates that it is by Jesus Christ we have obtained our faith. Our faith is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8). So, we have every reason to hope, because God has gone way out of His way to make us right before Him. He has paid our penalty, He has made us righteous by faith, and He by His grace inclined our hearts to Him so that we would be faithful.

Aquinas, seeing the transition in Paul’s letter, informs us as to where he’s headed next:

After showing the need for Christ’s grace, because without it neither the knowledge of the truth benefited the Gentiles nor circumcision and the Law benefited the Jews unto salvation, the Apostle now begins to extol the power of grace. Concerning this, he does two things. First, he shows what goods we obtain through grace; secondly, from what evils we are freed by it.

3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Not only do we exult in the glory of God because we are at peace with Him, thanks be to Jesus Christ, we exult in our tribulations. Why? They produce hope which does not disappoint thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

After giving Christians comfort that the love of God is evident in their hearts because they have hope in tribulation: he elaborates upon the reason for our hope, summarizing again the first four chapters.

While we were helpless, not seeking God (Rom 3:11) and unable to save ourselves by our own works, Christ died for us. The love God shows us in doing this is unparalleled, because no man would trade his life for someone who is wicked. Upon faith in Christ, man is justified by Christ’s blood, so that his salvation is sure because all of his sins have been paid for.

However, there is more than this. We are no longer going to die as a penalty for sin, because we are going to be saved by His life. This means because Christ lives, we live. There is a union. We exult in Christ because our union with Him saves us from ourselves.

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

Therefore, or “in the same way,” those in union with Adam may expect death. Men are in union with Adam simply by being conceived as human beings. Through Adam, sin entered the world. Death is the punishment for sin, so he died. All men have subsequently died like Adam, so likewise they have all sinned.

13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Paul reminds us of what is in Rom 1:19-20: the Jewish Law is not necessary to condemn man, because even without it man is sinful according to the law of nature. So, it isn’t simply that a man is held guilty for a sin he did not commit (for Adam committed his own sin), but it is useful to think that each man is held accountable for his own sinfulness.

Why? “The soul [הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ] who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity” (Ezek 18:20). Yet, this sinfulness has been inherited from Adam and all men are guilty of it (Rom 3:10).

How can men all die as a result of their own sin, but yet have this be the result of Adam’s sin? Augustine gives us a clue. He recounts a situation where a baptized infant later becomes sick, and the back-slidden parents force the child to take part in heathen ceremonies which would condemn the parents to Hell. This begs the question: if the baby needed baptism to forgive original sin as inherited by his father, wouldn’t the baby be liable for the sins of his parents subsequent to baptism?

No. Ezek 18:20 would not allow for this. Then, why does this baby need the baptism to be forgiven of original sin? Here, Augustine answers the question by making a distinction. The soul that sins dies. After the infant was conceived he had his own “soul.” Therefore, he is not imputed his parents sins. Yet, before he was born (existing in the loins of his father, see Heb 7:10) he was not a separate soul and thereby would have inherited the sin of his father. In this way, the infant is in need of baptism by default to deal with this inherited sin, but when conceived has his own soul and is no longer bearing the guilt of his father’s sins as if they were his own (such as in the heathen ceremony). In Augustine’s own words:

Both the soul of the father is mine, says the Lord, and the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die; Ezekiel 18:4 but he does not sin on whose behalf his parents or any other one resort, without his knowledge, to the impiety of worshipping heathen deities. That bond of guilt which was to be cancelled by the grace of this sacrament he derived from Adam, for this reason, that at the time of Adam’s sin he was not yet a soul having a separate life, i.e. another soul regarding which it could be said, both the soul of the father is mine, and the soul of the son is mine.

Therefore now, when the man has a personal, separate existence, being thereby made distinct from his parents, he is not held responsible for that sin in another which is performed without his consent. In the former case, he derived guilt from another, because, at the time when the guilt which he has derived was incurred, he was one with the person from whom he derived it, and was in him. But one man does not derive guilt from another, when, through the fact that each has a separate life belonging to himself, the word may apply equally to both— The soul that sins, it shall die (Augustine, Letter 98, Chapter 1).

In short, Augustine teaches that because the whole human race was in Adam’s loins before they were born, and Adam in his soul sinned, then those in union with Adam by virtue of having once been in his loins share that sin by default. If you want to be real technical, the only person to have died of sin in which Adam’s own was not part of their account would have been Eve. All others, at one point originating in Adam’s loins, were not separate souls at that point and thereby are polluted specifically with the sin of Adam.

This may sound awfully unfeasible in a scientific sense, but it works Biblically. Being in the loins of someone else, not yet being a separate soul, is real enough that even “through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (Heb 7:9-10). In the same way through Adam, even us, who commit our own sins, committed the original sin, for we were still in the loins of our father Adam when he disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree. We would have also committed every sin our forefathers committed before we were conceived.

What kind of sin is in the “likeness of the offense of Adam?” Simply put, sin reigned and all died because even without breaking a Law revealed by God, because one dies by breaking the law of nature. The likeness of the offense of Adam is akin to the Law, because Adam knowingly broke a command directly and specifically revealed by God. This interpretation is consistent with what Paul has detailed thus far in the letter.

Another possible interpretation from Augustine is that those whose sins were not in the likeness of the offense of Adam is a reference to all of those who died merely as the result of original sin (i.e. babies). He writes:

Therefore death reigned from Adam unto Moses, in all who were not assisted by the grace of Christ, that in them the kingdom of death might be destroyed, even in those who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, Romans 5:14 that is, who had not yet sinned of their own individual will, as Adam did, but had drawn from him original sin, who is the figure of him that was to come, Romans 5:14 because in him was constituted the form of condemnation to his future progeny, who should spring from him by natural descent (On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins and the Baptism of Infants, Book I, Chapter 13).

Aquinas elaborates the issue more succinctly:

But lest anyone suppose that they died on account of actual sins, he excludes this, when he says that it reigned even over those who did not sin by their own act, namely, children and the just who did not sin mortally, but did sin in the first man, as has been stated.

Chrysostom writes concerning the passage:

For if it is in sin that death has its origin, but when there is no law, sin is not imputed, how came death to prevail? From whence it is clear, that it was not this sin, the transgression, that is, of the Law, but that of Adam’s disobedience, which marred all things. Now what is the proof of this? The fact that even before the Law all died: for death reigned, he says, from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned.

While the preceding interpretation has been the dominant view of the Church for centuries, and for that reason alone should be deferred to, it does not speak to the role of the law of nature. What is the law that kills men that are not under the Law (i.e. gentiles) in the present? We already know the answer from Rom 1-2: the law of nature.

Did the law of nature not exist before the Law came so that Rom 5:14 is only a reference to original sin? This does not appear workable. For now, we will pass over this, as it is a tempest in a teapot and it will not radically affect our exegesis.

Last note on Rom 5:14: how is Adam a type of Christ? Well, in a sense he is a polar opposite. All men in union with him die. Contrariwise, all men in union with Christ will not die.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Here, the polar opposites are being contrasted. The transgression kills many, the free gift saves many (the gift is free because it is not paid for by works.) Death comes from what one man did, while life likewise comes from what one man did.

19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Many will be made righteous, because there are still men not yet born, who by virtue of having been in Adam’s loins, are destined to be rescued from the Adamic contagion by the obedience of the One. The union with Adam and Christ respectively in this verse is absolutely central.

Those in union with Adam are imputed Adam’s sin as if they were the one’s who actually committed the sin. They were not separate souls, so just as Levi sacrificed to Melchizedek in the loins of Abraham, in the same way all of us are guilty of the specific act of disobedience Adam committed.

The opposite of this are those who are in union with Christ, by virtue of having the Holy Spirit (which may also be called “the Spirit of Christ, Rom 8:9). Because they are in Christ, it was they too that have actually committed the act of obedience on the cross and subsequent resurrection. The believer then, when judged by works, will be judged according to Christ’s works. His sins are totally paid for on the cross and he is actually righteous in Christ, being credited with the righteousness of the crucifixion and the resurrection. This conclusion is unavoidable given the parallelism in verse 19. If we are made guilty with the specific sin of Adam by default, then those in Christ are made righteous by Christ’s specific works as if they themselves have actually done them.

20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Law came so that God is now the attributed even greater glory because He rescued us from even greater sin: “until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom 5:13). Therefore, man was not credited for as great a debt against God until the unveiling of the Mosaic Law made it exceedingly clear that man is exceedingly wicked. God’s grace is made greater now that Christ pays a much greater debt on our behalf. The more indebted to God we are, the more gracious He is when He forgives us through Christ.

So, while the debt of original sin is bad, and the law of nature is even worse, that debt has been increased by those who deliberately break the Mosaic Law. God’s grace is magnified increasingly as He rescues man from the debt incurred by sins that are the result of all of these.

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