Paul’s Writing: Faith and Grace; Spirit vs. Flesh
The question of how one may be purified and allowed into the realm of heaven haunts many Christians. The answer, however, becomes quite clear once one considers some of the passages from St. Paul’s writing. According to the latter, the act of salvation, which implies being redeemed, suggests that one should gain the necessary qualities by faith and through God’s grace. In other words, one is supposed to warrant salvation with one’s faith since the act of Gods’ grace alone will imply that redemption has not been earned (“The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians” par. 18).
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Paul indicates quite clearly that the mere presence of God’s grace does not mean that one will be redeemed and, therefore, able to join the Heavenly realm: “[the] justice of God is revealed by him from faith to faith” (The New Testament, Paul 1.17). Consequently, it is necessary to earn God’s grace with humility, piety, and other virtues that will ultimately lead to spiritual purification.
Similarly, the spiritual element must dominate the one associated with weak flesh. Paul’s writings show quite clearly that carnal desires and temptations must not define the choices made by Christians. Instead, their spirit must: “The [one] having been born according to [the] flesh persecuted the [one] according to [the] spirit” (The New Testament, Paul 4:29). Thus, the concept of spirit dominating flesh should be viewed as the cornerstone of spiritual awakening and the further possibility of being saved from the clutches of sinful life. The idea of redeeming oneself as the path to salvation goes back to Jesus dying for people’s sins, which is the crux of the New Testament. Now that people have been shown the way of righteousness, it is their task to strive to have faith and Christian virtues.
Role of the Themes in the Thoughts of St. Augustine
The concepts of faith and grace addressed by St. Paul in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians were rendered by quite a few theologians, St. Augustine being one of them. While borrowing heavily from St. Paul’s idea of faith and glory, St. Augustine tends to focus on God’s power to bestow righteousness on a believer:
For Augustine, God bestows justifying righteousness upon the sinner in such a way that it becomes part of his or her person. As a result, the righteousness, although originating from outside the sinner, becomes part of his or her person. (McGrath 339)
As a result, the role of a personal effort in an attempt to gain redemption and, therefore, the right to gain salvation, is diminished to a considerable degree. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to claim that St. Augustine completely denied the concept of a spiritual effort. Quite on the contrary, his writing shows that he insisted on the concept of good being an integral part of human nature. Therefore, he made it clear that people were responsible for the choices that they made.
Similarly, St. Augustine did not deny the concept of flesh: “A man may love something more than his body, but does not, therefore, hate his body” (St. Augustine 95). Instead, he suggested that people’s choices must be defined by the spirit rather than the flesh. In other words, the themes of faith, grace, spirit, and flesh play a significant role in the development of St. Augustine’s philosophy. The theologian balances between the two extremes, pointing out the fact that maintaining equilibrium is the most reasonable choice in the case in point.
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Role of the Themes in the Thoughts of Martin Luther
Similarly to St. Augustine, Martin Luther also explores the concepts of faith, grace, spirit, and flesh in depth. Particularly, Luther sheds a lot of light on how Paul’s vision of the identified notions may be interpreted. In his preface to the translation of the Letters to the Romans, Luther points out that he views faith as sufficient justification for one’s spiritual growth. In other words, the theologian dismisses the necessity of works as the way of gaining God’s grace slowly but surely. Instead, according to Luther, the people that have faith also have the intrinsic ability to redeem themselves as Christians solely because of their ability to believe (Grenholm and Gunner 88).
The identified approach toward the interpretation of St. Paul’s writing is admittedly debatable. It seems to be contrary to Augustine’s opinion, which suggests that people should redeem themselves based on the merit of their works. Nevertheless, Martin Luther provides rather substantial evidence in favor of his interpretation by emphasizing St. Paul‘s definition of law as a spiritual notion (Garuth 32).
Furthermore, Luther states that to become a sinner, one must devote oneself to the life of vice fully, i.e., body and soul. Apart from pointing evidently to Luther’s concept of people being intrinsically redeemed, the specified argument also implies that Luther gives credit to both spirit and flesh as equally important constituents of human existence. Therefore, it can be assumed that all four notions (i.e., faith, grace, spirit, and flesh) play a significant role in Luther’s theological philosophy, as well as his vision of St. Paul’s writing. Providing a different perspective on the issue, the theologian offers an intriguing argument that shapes the notions and prevents them from being preconceived by the readers.
“The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians.” Biblescripture.net, n.d., Web.
Garuth, David. 6 Keys of Spiritual Transformation. WestBow Press, 2014.
Grenholm, Carl-Henric, and Goran Gunner. Lutheran Identity and Political Theology. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2014.
McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
The New Testament. Edited by William Zeitler, Faithful Bible, 2009.
St. Augustine. On Christian Doctrine. Translated by Wyatt North. Wyatt North Publishing, LLC, 2014.