This summer my parish is going to use a Bible study I wrote on the New Testament. I'm so pumped! Basically it's a ten-week overview of the New Testament using the authors Mathew, Paul (and his disciple Luke), Peter (and his disciple Mark), and John. Between these guys is something like 90% of the New Testament. My first talk is both an introduction to reading and interpreting the Bible (along with which translation to use!) while also an introduction to the Old Testament and how it fits into the New via history and typology. In other words, I aim to refute the "mean" Old Testament God with the "nice" New Testament God. This talk really culminates in the second talk which looks at the Gospel of Matthew and how the Jesus and the Church fulfill Old Testament prophesy and types.
Now when we get into Paul, the students will learn a thing or two about justification, sanctification, and salvation. And what really gets me is when I hear people push the whole faith alone Protestant concept - because it just doesn't fit what the Bible says.
It comes back to what is called "imputed" righteousness. This means that humanity is so injured from the Fall that not even God can repair it. According to Luther our souls are like dunghills. No matter what they will always eternally be dunghills. The most God can do is cover the dung with something that would blind himself from the impurity of our being. That's where Jesus comes in. By faith, we are covered with his righteousness so that when God sees us, he only sees Jesus and Jesus' saving work.
Once Luther took this heretical view, he was quite able to reject indulgences, relics, sacramentals, Purgatory, penance, good works, and many sacraments. Why? Because all of those things are there to truly purify our souls and make us really holy. So when you deny that you can become holy, the tools or means of holiness are no longer necessary. With his theology, we can only become externally or visibly holy - but this is just a docetic holiness; a pseudo-holiness.
I just don't buy it.
And it's not because the Catholic Church condemns it - the Bible does, too. I just re-read Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians today and can't find a bit about external holiness or faith alone without works. Instead I run into Paul thanking God for the Thessalonians's "work of faith and labor [work] of love" - in verse 3 (emphasis mine)! But more importantly, faith and love are connected because faith helps us take the first steps so that the works of love can make us pure and holy. For example, Paul hopes that God will help the Thessalonians to "abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts [that is, your INmost being] to be blameless in holiness before our God..." (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13). So Paul is saying that in coming to God, the people will be truly holy - in their very being!
Chapter four takes the next step: "This is the will of God, your holiness" (verse 3). God's will is also that they should "give thanks" (5:18). Let's see, how might giving thanks tie in with being holy? Could it be that the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharistia? How about the fact that our primary holiness comes from the reception of this Eucharist?!
But let me conclude this post with the a tad bit from the end of 1 Thessalonians regarding holiness: "May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord..." (5:23, emphasis mine).