The Doctrine

Consistently with the doctrine of original sin, it is common among Christians to believe that if we are justified, it is by faith in Jesus.* Since we are all sinners, we cannot earn salvation by our works. But we can be forgiven and treated as if we were righteous. The mark of our having been forgiven is that God, by an act of grace, gives us faith.

This doctrine has implications I find appalling. It implies that those among us who lack faith in Jesus have not received grace, have not been forgiven, and will, if we continue in that state, go to Hell. So the doctrine of justification by faith, which has strong support in the Christian scriptures, leads inevitably to exclusivism, to the idea that all who reject Christian doctrine must be damned, no matter how good they may be in other respects.

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If God chose the beneficiaries of his grace on the ground of some distinctive merit they possessed, this might not be unfair to those he didn‘t choose, whom we would presume to lack that merit. But that would be contrary to the idea of grace, which implies a free gift, not something given to someone who deserves it on account of merit.

So usually it is held that God has no reason for choosing some and not oth- ers. He acts quite arbitrarily. It‘s a hard and ugly doctrine, this doctrine of grace. Of course if you have already accepted Hell and original sin, you may find this doctrine “full of comfort,” as my church put it. You may be grateful for having this chance at salvation, even if it does seem to be a lottery in which the odds are not on your side. And if you think you have faith, then you may also think you have won the lottery. Still even the faithful may not be able to entirely set aside thoughts about the unlucky losers. Sometimes they love non- believers and then the doctrine of salvation by faith can cause them great grief.


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