Unguarded Statements

Posted by Matt Postiff December 12, 2012 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology 

One of the commentaries to which I referred in my studies for my recent series in 1 Timothy was George W. Knight III, The Pastoral Epistles in the NIGTC Series (Eerdmans). When I read the following statement from p. 275, that old idea of "unguarded statements" came to mind:

What Paul says to the rich through Timothy is what he says to Timothy himself (vv. 11ff.), what he has said of himself (Phil. 3:8ff.; 1 Cor. 9:24-27), and what he has said to others (Gal. 6:7, 8): Good works demonstrate the reality of faith and salvation and are needed to receive eternal life (cf. Mt. 7:21; 25:34-40, 46b)...What both Paul and Jesus are saying is that one who has accepted God's grace and salvation must evidence it in one's life. Thus they are quite willing to say, as both an encouragement and a warning, that this evidence of salvation is a necessity for the reception of eternal life."

I can interpret what Knight is saying in a favorable way, but the more I look at it, the more I think I would be too generous if I did so. When he writes that "good works demonstrate the reality of faith and salvation" I can say amen to that. Ditto for "one who has accepted God's grace and salvation must evidence it." But then to say that these good works are necessary to receive eternal life and are needed for the reception of eternal life, I have to balk at that.

The problem with his statement is that only one who has already become a partaker in eternal life can do good works and is qualified to do them in the first place (Ephesians 2:10, Titus 1:16). I believe Knight wishes to maintain a robust doctrine of perseverance, and I charitably suppose that he believes in at least two kinds of "eternal life": the kind you receive when you are saved, and then the kind you receive when you are glorified. But these statements leave a lot of reading between the lines and can certainly misguide someone into thinking they receive eternal life by a combination of genuine faith and works. It is this latter conclusion that has to be guarded against. Eternal life is received by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Yes, genuine faith, but still only faith. Works are the outworking of true faith.

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