In the last two parts of this series I have tried to introduce the reader to two commonly overlooked factors concerning salvation. The first is that God brought about the promised blessings by first promising them according to His will and then fulfilling it in the faithfulness of Jesus’ atonement as a man. The second commonly overlooked factor is that human faith and works are not at odds with each other as faith should be understood as a righteous disposition.
We shouldn’t understand early Christians to be just as authoritative as the Apostles of our Lord Jesus, but there are good reasons to value what they say and what their understanding on a matter was. I have selected just one passage from three different early Christians to help the reader understand how these authors understood salvation and to help him understand that these views were in fact present in the first century. I have chosen some of the oldest Christian writings we have whose authors are termed as Apostolic Fathers. I have chosen Ignatius, Clement, and Polycarp. These three men are termed apostolic fathers not only because they lived in the times of Apostles, but because they also had a personal relationship with them. Both Polycarp and Ignatius are recorded as disciples of the Apostle John. Clement is known to have worked personally with the Apostle Paul. Check out what these three have to say below.
Epistle of Ignaitus to the Ephesians 14
“None of these things is hid from you, if ye perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ Jesus which are the beginning and the end of life. For the beginning is faith, and the end is love. Now these two, being inseparably connected together, are of God, while all other things which are requisite for a holy life follow after them. No man [truly] making a profession of faith sinneth; nor does he that possesses love hate any one. The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognized by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.
Wherefore none of the devices of the devil shall be hidden from you, if, like Paul, ye perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ which are the beginning and the end of life. The beginning of life is faith, and the end is love. And these two being inseparably connected together, do perfect the man of God; while all other things which are requisite to a holy life follow after them. No man making a profession of faith ought to sin, nor one possessed of love to hate his brother. For He that said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” said also, “and thy neighbour as thyself.” Those that profess themselves to be Christ’s are known not only by what they say, but by what they practice. “For the tree is known by its fruit.”
Ignatius points out that faith in regards to Christians is that of action and loyalty to God and Jesus. Their faith is not something recognized by word only, but also by conduct.
1 Clement 31-32
31:1 Let us cleave, therefore, to his blessing, and let us see what are the ways of blessing. Let us consult the records of the things that happened from the beginning.
31:2 On what account was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not that he wrought righteousness and truth through faith?
31:3 Isaac, with confidence, knowing the future, willingly became a sacrifice.
31:4 Jacob, with humility, flying from his brother, went out from his own land and journeyed unto Laban and served as a slave, and there were given unto him the twelve tribes of Israel.
32:1 If any one will consider these things with sincerity and one by one, he will recognize the magnificence of the gifts that were given by him.
32:2 For from Jacob came the priests and all the Levites that serve the altar of God. From him came our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh; from him came the kings and rulers and governors of the tribe of Judah; and the remainder of his tribes are of no small glory, since God hath promised, Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.
32:3 All these, therefore, have been glorified and magnified, not through themselves or through their works, or through the righteousness that they have done, but through his will.
32:4 And we who through his will have been called in Christ Jesus are justified, not by ourselves, or through our wisdom or understanding or godliness, or the works that we have done in holiness of heart, but by faith, by which all men from the beginning have been justified by Almighty God, to whom be glory world without end. Amen.]
If one was to take the modern understanding of soteriology and apply it to this author it would be impossible for this writer to not be contradicting himself from the first chapter to the next. He says in the first chapter that Abraham and others received the blessings by working righteousness through faith. Then in the next chapter he says that righteous works were not the reason they were magnified with the blessings, but rather they were magnified because of God’s will. He then immediately equates justification through “Jesus, God, and faith”. Therefore this author understands that the “faith” that justifies is through “Almighty God.” In this he is in full accordance with James chapter 2 and Hebrews 11.
Polycarp to the Philippians 1:1-3/2:1-2
“I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] “whom God raised from the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.” “In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory;” into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not of works,” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.”
“Wherefore, girding up your loins,” “serve the Lord in fear” and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and “believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory,” and a throne at His right hand. To Him all things in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: “Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again;” and once more, “Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
In the first chapter it is clear that Polycarp did believe that salvation was by grace and not by works. In saying that it is not by works he understands that it is “by the will of God through Jesus Christ.” Then in the next chapter he affirms that Christians will receive the promise “if we do His will, and walk in His commandments.” It’s interesting to note that he did not believe that this contradicted the Scriptures he quoted concerning “believing in Jesus”. So again we see another early Christian affirming that God’s grace is equated with God giving up Jesus and that the response of the Christian should be good works to enter into the promised blessings.
So in this series I hope to introduce the reader to another way of understanding the teaching of salvation as presented by the Apostles and authors of Scripture. I hope the reader will understand that the promises of God in salvation did not come about by either human faith or works, but instead by God’s desire in promising it and His faithfulness in fulfilling it through Jesus’ atonement. I also hope the reader understands that faith is more of a loyal disposition rather than a mental assent and is not at odds with good works at all. Questioning this perspective is good, but do know that early Christians seem also to have had this perspective as well. I hope to have demonstrated this well in this last part of the series.
All Church Father qoutes were taken from “Ante-Nicene Fathers” by Philip Schaff. “ANFO1”. Accesed through CCEL.org