Friday, May 4, 2012

A View of the Homefront: The Good Thief

The Good Thief is one of the most used Protestant examples of Sole Fida.

Sole Fida is basically Latin for Faith Only.  Basically in some Christian groups, one only has to believe in Jesus to be saved.  Works, to these groups, is simply an extension, what flows naturally from being saved and believing.

Shamless Popery tackles this topic here.  But I brought up the Thief example and some kind bloggers responded.

As I see it, the good thief did two good works: 1.) He publicly rebuked the other thief in defense of Jesus's innocence and 2.) he humbly accepted his own crucifixion and death as just payment for his own sins. That's a lot in a short amount of time. Jesus's parable of the workers in His field tells me that we need to accept His offer and work in His field to the end of the day to get a day's wage. It's starting, working and finishing that count; not how long that happens to be.
I suppose this is one of the best arguments against The Good Thief as being an example of Sole Fida.  Clearly, the thief is repentant and that's in line with good works, but one could argue that it's also still a part of Sole Fida.  One can simply say the Sinners Prayer and repent to show belief.  

We must Repent of our sins to be saved. If we do this at the end of our life, like Buonconte or the Good Thief, we'll be with Christ in Heaven (after a lengthy stay in Purgatory, according to Dante) - if we don't we reject Christ and his Kingdom, forever. There is no sin too grave for the Blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, to forgive - we simply have to accept that forgiveness. But as is revealed when Christ said to the adulterous woman "go and sin no more" (John 8:11), an essential part (for those still living) of accepting that forgiveness is reforming our lives and following the commands of Christ (i.e. Good Works). So, we can't "game the system" i.e. live horrible lives, repent half-heatedly on our death beds and still be forgiven. True repentance (as would be the case with the Good Thief) would have shown forth Good Works, had the Thief had time to do them.
I agree with what he says about not "gaming the system." However, I think this argument is weak.  The whole point of the Good Thief argument is that the thief didn't need time to perform good works.  Jesus, from the Protestant view point, believes that faith outweighs good works.  And good works are simply an extension the fruit of faith.  Not equal.

I'd also make the distinction between *initial* justification and *continuing* justification.

This one is the best argument.  Initial justification is baptism.  Continuing justification is basically following God's commandments.   In looking at the Wikipedia article about Justification, they have a nice chart.  

Basically what you can see is that Catholic/Orthodox believe in justification as ongoing not just a single event.  We also believe that our salvation (justification and sanctification being one in the same for us) is something that we have some control over.  If we sin, mortally, we jeopardize our own salvation.  Most Protestants believe that justification is a single event.  It varies as to whether you can loose it due to disbelief; sin doesn't seem to factor is as a cause for loosing one's justification.

It's clear that this is where the hang-up over the thief argument is.  Protestants view the Good Thief's repentance being something of a single event.  Therefore, faith is above works.  But as Joe's post spells out faith and works have to be present.  The thief may have performed good works through his rebuking the fellow on the other cross, but he didn't have time to do much else.  And having a death bed confession, as one blogger said, is not the way to go about it either.  This does happen to some people, but I wouldn't want it the way for most people's salvation to go down either.

And the whole reason for the Protestant reformation was because, to paraphrase Joe, of faith and works being separate and faith being the only method to ensure salvation.  Orthodox and Catholics don't agree with this.  So until a Protestant crosses the Tiber, I'm afraid the whole Good Thief argument is at a stand still.  I don't think I can argue for initial justification if someone else truly beliefs that salvation is a single event.

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