Friday, August 19, 2016

The Spiritual Meaning of Works in Scripture, and Why Protestants have it Wrong

The Protestant churches have committed a major error which is the foundation of their theology, in which they have misinterpreted the meaning of the "works of the law" in the letters of the apostle Paul.  The end result is that many (not all) have made religion one of belief alone, and that they do not have to do anything with their lives.  And yet scripture says all will be judged according to their works (see Matt. 16:27).  If all are judged according to their works, how is it that Paul says we are justified by faith without works of the law? I bring this up because this became a matter of discussion for the "life review" we will all experience after death, which I describe in the previous blog post The Life Review of the Near Death Experience and the Visions of Swedenborg, as well as The Christianity of the Being of Light of the Near Death Experience.  What the Near Death Experience shows is that God cares about what we do with our life, and we will be held accountable for what we do with our life.  It is not about one's belief. It is about how we love others.

This issue of "works" comes up repeatedly in discussion with Protestants. What many do not understand is the word "works" is used in different contexts in scripture, and in each context it has a completely different meaning.  There are three main definitions of works, and the same word is used in all contexts:

  1. The works of the law refer to the rituals of the Jewish or Mosaic law.
  2. Works refer to self-meritorious works, works done for the sake of one's self or for the sake of appearance towards others.
  3. Works refer to acts of love and charity based on faith, or one's love towards God and others.

I will repeat this again: in the letters of Paul, Paul speaks of works of the rituals of the Mosaic law, which have been abrogated.  Unfortunately a large number of Christians thinks that Paul is speaking about all works in general, and thus they have made religion one of praise and lip service only.  Many Protestants in particular think all works are by nature self-meritorious or hypocritical (#2 above) and they completely forget about works done out of faith.


Instead of completely repeating myself, I recommend for anyone interested to explore the following posts in which I discuss Protestant theology:

The Fallacy of Salvation and Justification by Faith Alone - explains how Jesus condemned belief alone. How "faith" is not just merely belief, but means "living by the truth." How Protestants falsely teach the will of each person is passive instead of active.

Is Salvation a Free Gift? - explains the fallacy of the teaching that one must do nothing to enter heaven.  A covenant is a TWO WAY relationship, and is based on love and doing God's commandments.

The False Theological Definition of the word "Grace" - Grace does not mean "unmerited favour." This is a false theological definition invented by Protestants.

The Fundamental Error of the Protestant Faith - this lists multiple quotes from scripture, showing that a spiritual life is not just a belief system in the memory. It is a life of works according to faith.

The Error of the Protestant Churches - this again explains what Paul meant by "works of the law."

A New Perspective on Paul and the New Church Perspective on Paul - Protestant theologians have comes to realize, from indisputable research on Jewish religion of the first century A.D., that Paul was talking about the rituals of the Mosaic law. But Swedenborg pointed this out over 250 years ago.

The Prophecy of Pauline Christianity - this discusses how scripture foresaw how the false teaching of belief alone would come to invade and destroy the church from within.


One interesting view I have heard from a Protestant is that New Church theology is a blatant form of Pelagianism.  This was new to me.  So I looked up what Pelagianism was, I had never heard of it.  From Pelagianism:
Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid. This theological theory is named after the British monk Pelagius (354–420 or 440), although he denied, at least at some point in his life, many of the doctrines associated with his name. Pelagius taught that the human will, as created with its abilities by God, was sufficient to live a sinless life, although he believed that God's grace assisted every good work. Pelagianism has come to be identified with the view (whether taught by Pelagius or not) that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts.
Note the last sentence: opposition to any effort by someone to obtain salvation.  Swedenborg did not discuss Pelagianism directly, but merely lists it as a heresy in Apocalypse Revealed.  Anyone familiar with what was taught in the New Church theology knows that it has nothing to do with Pelagianism.  Here is what the New Church teaches:

  1. All good is from God alone.  God alone is good.
  2. Man of his selfish ego is nothing but evil. All of one's evil comes from the selfish ego.
  3. Inasmuch as one turns against one's selfish evil, and repents, one opens oneself to receiving God's love.
  4. God's love flows into us inasmuch as we act from the will according to love.
  5. Although we do good as if from ourselves, we must always acknowledge it is God who allows us to do good.

This is spelled out in more detail in the works Doctrine of Life and Doctrine of Faith, which are both found in the work Doctrines of the New Jerusalem.

Protestant theology, in its worst form, declares the will of a man passive, that God does everything through the Holy Spirit.  But we are not passive, our will is active.  There is an influx of Divine good into our will inasmuch as we receive it, and do it.  For that is the nature of love: it desires to do good, to make others happy, in outward act.


Having been introduced to Protestant theology, I can tell you that most Protestants are introduced to Christianity through the writings of Paul, especially the book of Romans and Galatians.  And here it is not understood that Paul was writing against the Judaizers, who kept trying to get the early Christians to follow the rituals of the Mosaic law.  But there is an interesting quote that Protestants will use, to indicate that each person has no capacity to do good:
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?
And not [rather], (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
What then? are we better [than they]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one
. (Rom. 3:7-12)
This passage is interesting. Throughout the letters of Paul, Paul is constantly defending himself against being a liar, but in verse 7, he actually admits to having committed a lie.  There is actually a bit of historical evidence of a big conflict between the apostle Paul and the apostle James - for more information on this, see Christus Victor, Pauline Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Another interesting point here is that in Rom, 3:13-18 Paul is quoting the Septuagint version of Psalm 14, which contains 8 lines not found in the Masoretic and were a later addition. But besides that, what of this verse from the Psalm:
There is none who does good, no, not one. (Ps. 14:3)
Does this mean that no one can do any good, and that thus works are of no account?  No.  This is an example of how a verse taken out of context can be distorted.  Psalm 14 begins as follows:
The fool has said in his heart, there is no God. (Ps. 14:1)
Thus the Psalm is speaking of those who do not believe in God, and do everything for their own self.  These become self-meritorious or hypocritcal works, depending on the intent. Thus they are incapable of doing good, for actions are judged according to intent, and anything done for selfish purposes is regarded as evil, not good.  That this is so, is shown by other passages:
Many say, Who will show us good?Jehovah, lift up the light of Your face upon us. (Ps. 4:6)
This speaks of those who deny that anyone can do good.  But the second half speaks of the Divine truth (the light) from the Lord's face, which signifies Divine love and mercy.  Divine love and mercy flows into all people who do according to God's will.  God's light flows into our understanding through faith, and God's mercy flows into us through our will.  We have no good apart from God:
You have said unto Jehovah, You are my Lord,My goodness is not beyond You. (Ps. 16:2)
This is an acknowledgment that one's good originates from God.  We are but recipients of it.  But we are not passive recipients, for the will by nature is active.  Jehovah is Divine Love, which flows into the Lord as to the Divine Human (Heb. Adonai), and from the Lord flows into us through our will.  One must seek good from the Lord, and not from the selfish ego:
They who enquire after Jehovah shall not want any good. (Ps. 34:10)
And who says we should not do good?  That is against all of scripture, and destroys Christianity from within.  That it is not true, and a false teaching, can be shown from this verse:
Depart from evil and do good (Ps. 34:14)
So telling people that they must do good, by refusing evil, and following the commandments, is not Pelagianism.  It is the Christian way of life.  It is an active effective Christianity, one that is useful not only in this life but the life to come.  When one understands that one's good and truth are from the Lord alone, he or she then give glory and honor to the Lord alone:
By giving to the Lord glory and honor nothing else is meant in the Word but to acknowledge and confess that all truth and all good are from Him, and thus that He is the only God; for He has glory from the Divine truth and honor from the Divine good. These things are signified by glory and honor in the following passages: Jehovah made the heavens; glory and honor are before Him (Ps. xcvi. 5, 6). O Jehovah God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with glory and honor (Ps. civ. 1). The works of Jehovah are great; glory and honor are His work (Ps. cxi. 2, 3). Glory and honor Thou layest upon Him, blessings for ever (Ps. xxi. 5, 6). These things are said of the Lord. Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O mighty in glory and honor; in Thine honor mount up, ride upon the Word of truth (Ps. xlv. 3, 4). Thou hast made him little less than the angels; Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor (Ps. viii. 5). The glory of Lebanon hast Thou given unto it, the honor of Carmel and Sharon: they shall see the glory of Jehovah, and the honor of our God (Isa. xxxv. 1, 2). These and the foregoing are concerning the Lord; besides other places, as Ps. cxlv. 4, 5, 12; Apoc. xxi. 24, 26. Besides, where the Divine truth is treated of in the Word, the word glory is used (n. 629); and where the Divine good is treated of, honor.” (Apocalypse Revealed, n. 249)
If you have been taught otherwise, examine the scriptures, and determine what you have been taught is according to the truth.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. You cannot simply be good and nice to all people. In the New Church doctrines, love is always conjoined to truth. You are not being nice by doing good things to evil people who take advantage of others. The charity here is to reprove them, and if under the law, to punish. That is what doing good is to the evil means. This is known as the principle of "discriminate charity" - charity is exercised according to the quality and the need of the other person. This is the main mistake many religious teachers make.

    2. In some parts of the New Church it is clearly taught that the way of salvation is through the Lord Jesus Christ for as Swedenborge says we cannot overcome by our own power but only by The Lords power in our lives AC 3927
      However in much of the New Church throughout the world both religion and as a consequence The Lord are at best down played at worst written out of Swedenborge and all that is left is a religion of self achieved good works.

    3. Hello Martin, I noticed that too, at least in the sermons and books I have seen, not enough emphasis on the Lord. Experience may vary. However it is odd because in the New Church the Divine Human is the central doctrine of everything. Perhaps due to trying to give a more universal message? Not sure.

      As for works of self effort, Swedenborg says this:

      "Man must shun evils as sins, as if from himself, and yet know and believe that he does so from the Lord" (Doctrine of Life, n. 22). The important thing here is "as if." As long as we acknowledge all good we do is from the Lord alone, and done for the sake of being useful, it is not hypocritical or self-meritorious. It is important, as it is the Lord alone that allows us to resist evil.

      But you are right, once the Lord is removed, people start considering their own self ego as the purpose of all their actions.


Comments, questions, corrections and opinions welcome...