Jesus teaches salvation by faith alone without good works

Jesus told a parable that shows that anybody who thinks God gives them the grace and power to do good works that put them in good standing with God will be rejected by God.  The only thing that saves is admitting you can do nothing and it is all God's work.  The text rejects good works even done by grace as being grounds for declaring yourself right with God.  Sacraments such as baptism and holy communion which supposedly are the top good works in the Christian faith are top of the list.  The parable is the Achille's Heel of the Catholic Church. 


The well-loved parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector which Jesus told, teaches that one must believe that salvation is by faith alone without good works to be saved and to be able to please God. It makes it plain that those who think they have to do good works and believe with God’s help to be saved are accused of being hypocrites who will be cursed and rejected by God. The parable is a fatal condemnation of the Roman Catholic Church and its partner the Eastern Orthodox Church as well. It implies that the only place they can take their members to is Hell. It implies their goodness like the goodness of the Pharisee is an insult to God.

The Pharisee thanked God for making him a better person than the Tax Collector. The Pharisee agreed with the Catholic Church that God helps you to be good and that merit before God is gained only with God’s help because he thanked God for helping him to become holy. But Jesus condemned the Pharisee for believing that and said that only the Tax Collector who would not even look up to Heaven but prayed for mercy and focused on his sins was justified and put right with God. There is no hint in the parable that the Pharisee was a self-righteous legalist who thought he could earn salvation without God’s help. If he did, then he was not a Pharisee but a heretic for the Law of Moses commanded that it should be kept as an expression of an intimate relationship with God and offered forgiveness if you failed so that you could start again. The Law promised salvation by obedience and God’s mercy or grace and forgiveness.

We must not read things into the text that are not there. Catholics reject as do Christians, the notion that one should think that if one does more good works than bad one can be saved. The Pharisee gave no hint of accepting that notion. Catholics reject the idea that you can earn Heaven by doing good works. They teach that you need the grace of God to be saved and his forgiveness. The Pharisee gave no hint of accepting the notion of earning salvation either. In fact he rejected it for he thanked God for the virtuous person he had become. The Pharisee was not saying he was not a sinner. He was saying he was for he needed God to make him holy. He was admitting that God had to forgive him in the process of making him the great man he was now.

Many theologians say there was nothing wrong with the Pharisees prayer - it is just that he never apologised for his sins.  So it is the silence that is the problem. But Jesus never says why there was a problem.

It is a mistake to say that Jesus is saying that the problem with the Pharisee is that he was not aware of his own sins for he does not say that the Pharisee was a wilful sinner or that he was unaware of his sins.  In fact claiming as the Pharisee did that any good he does is the gift of God is an affirmation that he is weak and sinful.  Otherwise there would be nothing to thank God for.  The Pharisee is at the top of the synagogue and the sinner down the back.  But there is no reason to believe there is anybody else there and the Pharisee is there for show.  The Pharisee's position implies he feels close to God while the tax collector feels too ashamed to move from the back.  The Pharisee matches Jesus doctrine that God is daddy and we can run right up to him while the tax collector sees him as dreadful judge.

 The Pharisee would not dare try to convince God who knows all and sees all that he is such a great person unless he thought God agreed with him. He would not waste the time. Luke says the parable was intended for those who were confident that they were right with God and condemned others. They could not sin if they believed that so the passage also attacks the notion that the sincere will be put right with God just because they are sincere. There is no hint in the story that the Pharisee was wrong about himself and as we have seen it indicates that he was right about himself being righteous and considered holy by God.

The Catholic Church says that the Pharisee was condemned for despising the Tax Collector. Some say the Pharisee was in the wrong with God for he didn’t like the tax collector and told God he was better than him and others who sin. Jesus said the parable was about people who are confident in their holiness and who look down on others. But he says nothing to indicate that the Pharisee was being uncharitable. The Pharisee might have had a weakness that made him look down on sinners which wouldn’t be a sin if he was fighting it or trying to. And all who claim to be righteous or at least more righteous than some other people must consider themselves better than these people. It happens necessarily. Nothing in the parable indicates that Jesus was talking about people who have a wilful VINDICTIVE dislike or contempt for those who they perceive as sinners. Not all personal dislike is sinful according to the Church.

The Pharisee didn’t have a vindictive contempt. If the Tax Collector was repenting the Pharisee didn’t know it for the Tax Collector was hiding himself as best he could with shame. And perhaps the Tax Collector was always sinning and doing that. The Pharisee definitely knew him well. The Pharisee told God he was holier than the tax-collector and that he gave out a lot of money to charity which took the form of the tithing system which was meant to help sinners back on the right track and to give them financial support as well as support the Temple. This tells us that the Pharisee did not hate bad people for charity helps the good and the bad. In that part of the world, charity would have helped the bad more for the bad would get into trouble a lot easier than the good. He said he fasted twice a week, which would be a prayer that he would be a beacon for sinners to show them the way and he would have been fasting for the sins of others for he believed he was holy. He knew that God will save sinners even if he never fasts so the main reason he fasted was for his own sins to make up for them and to discipline himself. He did not see himself as perfect and nothing in Jesus’ parable says that he did see himself as perfect. The Pharisee was not an uncharitable person at all.

So why then does Jesus accuse the Pharisee of having contempt for sinners? The only possible answer is that Jesus meant he loved sinners but despised them only in the sense that he thought they were not as holy or pleasing to God as he was. In other words, if you think John is not as good at Maths as you and you want him to be, your thinking that does involve despising for you don’t like him not being as good. No Christian however sees any sin in this.

So what was wrong with our Pharisee and why did God reject him? He was a saint or near-saint as far as morality goes. The reason was because he didn’t believe that salvation and being right with God had nothing to do with good works done with or without the help of God. This was his sin. The parable teaches that it is a sin not to believe this. The Pharisee was sincere but that did him no good. The Pharisee then was guilty of the worst sin of all. The Tax Collector though full of sins depended on faith alone and so was considered pleasing to God.

The Pharisee was condemned for failing to see that despite his good works and kindness and love for God he was as bad as the tax collector. He failed to see that good works are worthless before God. Only faith alone counts and it is not a good work but a work that God does in you that looks like your work.

Jesus taught at the end of the parable that righteous in the eyes of the world or unrighteous, all people are equally vile and murderous and thieving in the eyes of God.  The Bible warns that you are murderous if you harbour anger at all against your brother and a thief if you are envious meaning that you are a murderer and a thief in your attitude (Jesus in Matthew 5:27,28 teaches that you commit adultery against the commandment forbidding adultery just by thinking about committing adultery so it is the same with the other sins).

Even when you use God’s mercy and grace like the Pharisee would have done, it is no help. This clearly indicates that the only possible way to be right with God is if a substitute merits favour from God in your place. Jesus was claimed to have been this substitute and he is only the substitute for those to whom he gives the gift of faith in his merits. Salvation then is by faith alone, not by faith and works and not by grace and works.

This is what we would expect when St Paul the apostle taught that whether you have the Law of God or not you are not any better off, you are still a sinner who needs to be put right with God by the only way, faith in the merits of Jesus Christ the substitute. He stated that the Jews and Gentiles have no advantage over the other (Romans 2; Romans 3:9,10). So pagan systems which advocated coming to the divine mainly by grace but with a little input by yourself are still condemned as making their members lost to God. Roman Catholicism is not Christian for it does not know how to make Christians. The Bible, God, says you become a Christian by grace alone and this salvation is indicated when you are led to believe by the power of the Holy Spirit.
To be a Christian is to possess here and now ETERNAL life. This life is obtained by simply believing in Jesus for it.

John 5:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. " This was spoken to believing Jews. Jesus was saying you need to know of him and his gospel to be saved and you can be saved here and now.

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

1 Corinthians 15:19, the apostle Paul says that if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. This implies that if Christianity is not true, no matter how much the faith helps, it is rubbish and we deserve only pity. Aside from the fact that the Bible rejects the modern belief that if somebody's faith helps them leave them to it and say nothing even if it is a heap of nonsense, this indicates that anybody who does not consider themselves saved for all eternity they are not a Christian. Anybody who believes they can be helped by Jesus in this life and experience his forgiveness and still lose their salvation and go to Hell at the end of life is condemned severely by this verse. It condemns the Roman Catholic faith.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the young man is welcomed and saved by his father and it has nothing to do with any good he has done. He has done only bad.  This helps us understand Luke 18. 


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