This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
This is with reference to Q # 303 (Brazilian fire and Salvation through work) and evangelical doctrine of Salvation through faith alone. I quite agree with your analysis that Salvation through works alone does not make much sense. If a person has spent first 70 years of his life in sin and then it would be very hard for him to do enough good deeds later on in order to outweigh the bad deeds he had committed till the age of 70.
Hence Salvation through Work alone seems to be an extremist idea to me. However, I feel that Salvation through faith alone is equally an extremist idea and does not make sense either. If our salvation hinges on faith in the risen Christ, why do we have to do good deeds? What is their benefit to us ?
You might say that there are objective moral values and they need to be followed regardless of the fact that they do affect our salvation or not. Bible and Jesus also teach us to do good deeds. I agree with these assertions but the question still lingers for a person like me and many others (people who are primarily concerned with the bottom line result) that why do we have to take moral commandments/values so seriously when ultimately they are not going to count in our 'scoring sheet' in the hereafter. Of course there are objective moral values and Bible & Jesus Christ teach us to be good human beings. But Bible/Jesus Christ teach us lot of good things and no Christian can claim to fully adhere to these teachings. This is what evangelical Christianity teaches us that whatever good we do, we cannot merit God's salvation which is an unmerited gift and comes with faith alone.
Suppose I am an evangelical Christian (by the way I am Muslim). How would you convince me not to commit adultery? There is a statement attributed to Jesus Christ in the Bible that "Whosoever sees a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart" and the way Christians have interpreted this statement is that here Jesus is setting the bar/standard which shows that no man can come up to the standard set by God. If this is true and it is the destiny of every man to commit adultery (I am assuming that no man is immune to lusting which I think is a fair assumption) then why not commit adultery which is sexual rather than adultery based on simple lusting? What's so wrong with this approach?
If I am an evangelical Christian, my salvation would not depend on act of adultery but on my belief in risen Christ. I will still get salvation no matter how many acts of adultery I have committed. Yes, I would feel sorry after committing such an act and I would ask forgiveness from God and seek strength of Holy Spirit but I am a sinner after all comprising of weak flesh. I will again commit such an act and will ask forgiveness. This process may go on till my death!
Of course I do not endorse adultery and I know most Christians (including evangelical Christians) live a moral & upright life but there seems to be no logical reason why they should continue leading such a life given their evangelical beliefs. The common sense (which I know is not always right!) seems to indicate that Salvation should be dependent on combination of faith and good deeds and good deeds can't be removed altogether from the criteria of salvation.
Appreciate your feedback on the above issue. Thanks
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Thank you for your letter, Muhammad, and your sincere engagement with the Christian faith!
You first ask, “If our salvation hinges on faith in the risen Christ, why do we have to do good deeds? What is their benefit to us?” You anticipate correctly my answer: because we have certain God-given moral obligations and prohibitions to fulfill! We have such moral duties simply in virtue of being human, independent of our religious beliefs. A person who does good simply out of self-interest merely shows that he has not properly understood the moral life. Why not ask instead about what benefit there would be to others by your good deeds and by your being a good person--for example, a devoted husband and father or an honest worker or a loyal friend?
Of, course, there do accrue tremendous benefits to oneself as a result of becoming a good person who does good. Who wants to be a self-centered, ungenerous, dishonest, two-faced jerk? Is a person like that likely to attract a wonderful woman for a wife or to have a happy marriage? Will he win the affection and respect of others, including his own children? Remember that when we sin, we deviate from God’s perfect will for our lives and opt for mediocrity or worse, instead of pursuing all that God has for us. It goes without saying that there is tremendous benefit to pursuing the moral life God wills, even if we are sometimes called upon to sacrifice self-interest out of moral duty. But that having been said, those personal benefits are not why you pursue the moral life.
Now your objection is that my answer doesn’t “affect our salvation” and so has no “bottom line result.” Here I think your Muslim background has colored your interpretation of the Christian doctrine of salvation. Because in Islam the doing of righteous deeds in conjunction with the confession of faith is meritorious of salvation, you’re looking for some bottom line result. But in Christianity, good deeds are the necessary concomitant or outflow of sincere faith, not meritorious deeds done for the sake of salvation. Good deeds are the evidence of genuine, living faith, and in the absence of such deeds so-called faith is dead (James 2.17).
So you are terribly mistaken when you say, “If I am an evangelical Christian, . . . I will still get salvation no matter how many acts of adultery I have committed.” No! A person who lives a life of immorality while confessing Christ is a hypocrite whose faith is dead and useless. Good deeds are a necessary condition of salvation in a logical sense, in that, necessarily, if someone has saving faith, then he will do good deeds. Good deeds are not, as in Islam, a causally necessary condition of salvation, but they are a logically necessary condition of salvation. I recommend you read the transcript of my Defenders 2 lectures on the Doctrine of Salvation, part 10, where we explore further the relationship of saving faith and good works.
Your question, “Why not commit adultery which is sexual rather than adultery based on simple lusting? What's so wrong with this approach?” is bizarre. Of course, the sexual act is worse than the thought, for the woman involved is not wronged by your mere thought; but by your sexual act you have terribly wronged her by making her an adulteress. You should tremble before God for having so wronged her and derailed her life. All sin is evil, but some sins are much worse than others, and it would be crazy to think that you may as well commit an atrocity because you will probably commit a misdemeanor.
“How would you convince me not to commit adultery?” I once asked a minister how one might avoid falling into the sexual affairs which have snared so many Christian leaders. He replied, “Love of Christ is not enough.” I was shocked. I asked, “But if our love for the Lord is not enough to keep us from falling, what will?” His answer stunned me: “Fear.” Think of the consequences of such an act, how it will likely ruin your life, destroy your marriage, alienate your children, etc., etc. Notice that such consequences are not explanations why the act is wrong, Muhammad. You asked me rather how I would persuade you not to do something that is wrong. In order to convince you to resist a strong temptation, the grounds need to be very powerful, indeed, and fear is a great persuader.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org