Monday, September 13, 2010

Justification by Faith

James 2:24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

24 ὁρᾶτε ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος καὶ οὐκ ἐκ πίστεως μόνον.

The title of this post and this verse seem to be at odds with each other, don't they?  This is a verse that the Roman Catholic Church uses to defend their view of the gospel.  In fact, the Council of Trent declared an anathema on anyone who believes in justification by faith alone.  Their view of how one is justified before God is rather complex and I suggest you look it up for yourself to understand just how it is different from that which came out of the Reformation and, if I may say so, that which comes from a plain reading of Scripture.

Yet we have James 2 in our Bibles.  Although Luther did take issue with this book, he did consider it to be canonical.  What do we do with James 2:14-26, and particularly 2:24?  The Greek doesn't help us here.  I suppose you could try to do something fancy with the ὅτι and somehow try to suggest some kind of causation with a translation of "because" instead of "that," but I think that the ESV gets it right.  What to do?

To me, this passage stands as a defense of what is sometimes called "Lordship Salvation," or as John MacArthur puts it, the gospel according to Jesus.  It is clear from reading the Gospels that faith in Christ means action.  How can anyone come to know the living God of the universe and not have his life changed?  Everything about a person changes when they know the Lord.  It has to.  Look at what happened to Moses.  Look at the apostles after the resurrection.  They didn't really "get" what was going on until after Jesus was raised and they received the Holy Spirit.  Look at how bold they became afterwards.

I also think that Ephesians 2:10 helps us.  That verse tells us that we were made for good works.  God didn't save us just to stare at our navels and talk theology, despite what some folks may think.  He saved us to action.

To be clear, this does not mean that we suddenly stop sinning.  What it means is that our hearts change.  We go from being bent toward sin to being bent toward the Lord.  There are times (perhaps extensive times) when we go our own ways, but ultimately our hearts are bent toward the Lord.  That's what having the Holy Spirit is all about.  If we accept the gospel merely as fire insurance we have missed it.  The gospel is about God, not about us.

Also, to be clear, we do not do works to earn merit before God, despite what a Roman Catholic might tell you.  We work because we are saved.  We are not paying off a debt (we cannot), but we are acting out of sheer gratitude.  God is glorious and as I've tried to show through this blog, He is worthy of honor and praise.  If we aren't inclined to that then we must question the state of our hearts.

To me, it comes down to a simple question.  If God is indeed God, how can we encounter Him and not be transformed?  Unlike the apostles we have a completed canon.  Let's read it and be changed by this awesome transcendent God that we serve.

13 comments:

Lloyd said...

Thank you for this well written message from the Word of God. I really enjoyed reading the posts on your blog. I would like to invite you to come on over to my blog and check it out. God bless, Lloyd

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

"Also, to be clear, we do not do works to earn merit before God, despite what a Roman Catholic might tell you. We work because we are saved. We are not paying off a debt (we cannot), but we are acting out of sheer gratitude."

I'm not sure even Roman Catholics traffic much with this word of earned merit anymore, but as with all the other false teachings they've developed, they can never withdraw it officially. They just sort of shove it under the rug with everything else. Very lumpy to walk on!

I remember studying about indulgences and the excess merits of the saints, 'works of super-erogation' I think they were called, that could be applied to those who were too poor in personal merit to have any of their own. My Christian roots being in classical and biblical Anglicanism, I learned to abhor this teaching in the context of the 39 articles in the back of the Book of Common Prayer. But of course, the truth is found in the Word of God, and in those formularies that are derived from it.

I always wondered how people could have put up with such rubbish for so many centuries. The answer, of course, is that satan succeeded in hiding the Word of God from the people. In the Orthodox Eastern Church the currency of the Word of God among the people was never curtailed and hence, we did not fall into traps such as these.

What a blessing the Word of God is, and how great to be able to speak its words in the original languages, with understanding!

Jason said...

Romanos,

Thanks for stopping by and offering the Orthodox perspective. This is kind of what I was getting at in our previous discussions. It is important to look into these things so that we are presenting the true gospel. It is important to me because I do not think that the Roman Catholic view is going to save anyone, but will give them a false hope. This is why I fight so hard and become so picky when I think that the core message of the gospel is at stake.

Jason said...

Lloyd,

Thanks for stopping by brother.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

"It is important to me because I do not think that the Roman Catholic view is going to save anyone, but will give them a false hope."

This is one more harangue about labels and provoking resistance.

When we must inveigh against false doctrine, we present the true doctrine and contrast it to alternate opinions that lead to false hope, giving the sources for the true doctrine in scripture, and carefully not addressing the claims of the imposters. If we do not present resistance, they cannot push against us and develop antichristian muscle. And by avoiding counterproductive religious flag burning, we escape the accusation of being partisan.

God is One, He doesn't bother refuting the gods because they do not exist, they are fantasy.

Faith is one, we don't bother refuting religions because they also have no ultimate reality, they are dream cages.

We proclaim the truth, insist on it in season and out of season, we do not argue, nor provoke, we do nothing that we do not see Jesus doing in the gospels.

He made no one His adversary, nor do we. Enemies will come, but they name themselves, we don't name them. Everyone can only be what they are. Heresy destroys itself because it never existed in the first place.

On the practical level, pastoral concern for the lost will include specific teaching and correction. But in the broad activity of the disciple, only the proclamation of the Good News is evident.

The ever-flowing spring of the Good News by itself and without our help puts out the soul-destroying fire of heresy, which cannot burn in its presence.

Word verification: excei

Jason said...

Like it or not, we all have labels. "Roman Catholic" is one for an organization that calls itself the one true church and it also happens to promote a false gospel that will lead people to hell rather than heaven. I maintain that we also need to present their false gospel when we contrast it with the truth.

As an example, I recently heard a great message from a Christian pastor who had a distraught neighbor because as a Mormon her children were denied entrance to a local private Christian school. She said, "But we're Christians!" He took a few minutes to explain some core tenets of orthodox Christianity like the Trinity and atonement for sins. After about 10 minutes she realized that the Mormon church teaches about a different God, a different Jesus, and a different gospel and she was then confronted with a choice between the Bible and her church. I don't know what her final choice was (or will be), but I do know that if he let her persist in the illusion that the Mormon church was orthodox Christianity he would have done her a grave disservice. Agreed?

Michael Gormley said...

Dear Jason,

DO YOU PLAY RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH YOUR SALVATION?

Abide in Me, and I in You...


Jesus said:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you."
(John 15:1-7)

Wow! In those seven verses, the word ABIDE is mentioned seven times. The context of those verses provides us with a lot of light as to what is required of us by GOD for our eternal salvation.

Jesus said:
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14)

So we must not only ABIDE in Him but we must also strive to enter by the narrow gate. If we do not ABIDE in Him, then it is obvious that we are not on the path to the narrow gate of salvation, but on the path to the wide gate and to eternal destruction.

So Jesus said that if we do not ABIDE in Him (the Vine) then we will be taken away from the Vine by the Father, and will be cast off only to wither, to be gathered, and then to be thrown into the fire and burned.

Now that I have your attention, shouldn't we now find the meaning of the word ABIDE?

The theological meaning of ABIDE is to dwell within. Jesus would come and dwell in us and we likewise in Him. So as long as we do what Jesus requests of us then we are on the path to the narrow gate to salvation.

So to assure that we are on right path, Jesus has commanded that we must ABIDE in Him.

What is required in order to have Jesus ABIDE in us and we in Him?

Can we do it:

1. By accepting Him as our our own personal Lord and Savior ?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

2. By the grace of GOD only? Sola Gracias?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

3. By faith in GOD alone? Sola Fides?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

It is simple common sense that since He commanded that we must do something, then doesn't it stand to reason that He would also tell us how to do it?

Jesus was very clear in what we must do in order to have Him ABIDE in us and we in Him.

Jesus left this command for us in John 6:53-57:

53 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (the taken away branch);

54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

56 HE WHO EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD ABIDES IN ME, AND I IN HIM.

57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."

Jason said...

Michael,

Thank you for stopping by. In response to your questions:

1. By accepting Him as our our own personal Lord and Savior ?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

Nowhere.

2. By the grace of GOD only? Sola Gracias?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

Ephesians 2:8-9

3. By faith in GOD alone? Sola Fides?
No. Where does the Bible say that?

Ephesians 2:1-10, the book of Galatians.

We cannot do anything to merit our salvation. To say that we need to work to keep our salvation stands contrary to the Pauline corpus. However, there is clearly a tension with this verse as well. I believe that Ephesians 2:10 reconciles it.

The word "abide" is μενω in John 15. It carries the idea of "remaining" or "being kept in." I agree that those who do not abide in Christ are not saved. However, we do not abide in Christ to be saved. Rather, we do it as a result of our salvation. Note that Abraham was chosen before he had a chance to be faithful. The same goes with Noah.

I appreciate you stopping by as I don't often get to interact with a Roman Catholic who is actually Roman Catholic. Most professing Roman Catholics I know here in the States are actually liberal Protestants.

Michael Gormley said...

Dry water and cold fire!

Do Catholics believe we can earn Salvation?

In a word, no!


In fact, those who claim we do think that are making a wholly disingenuous argument based on false dilemma.

That false dilemma is that salvation is either by faith alone or by works alone.

Let's start with that with which all Protestants and Catholics agree.

1) Man is fallen.

2) Man cannot save himself.

3) Man needs a Saviour.

4) Jesus is the only one qualified for the job.

Some Fundamentalists act as if Catholics don't understand who Salvation comes from.

Ironic, since they also condemn us for the fact that we supposedly spend too much time commemorating the Crucifixion - the defining act making salvation available to us.

True, the Resurrection completes it and codifies it but the Resurrection is of little value to us without the Crucifixion.

Nevertheless, all Christians agree that the availability of Salvation is manifested, to the world, through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The price has been paid and the money put in the bank account. We call this part of the process Redemption.

Redemption is available to every person on earth. That is, there are sufficient funds in the bank to cover the salvation of every person.

Hebrews 9:12 he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

Yet, Catholics agree with the Apostles Paul & Peter that we must, in fact, fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church,

1Peter 4:13 But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.

Are Paul and Peter suggesting insufficiency in the Sanctifying power of Christ's blood?

Not at all. What they are saying is that it is not enough that Christ died for us, if we do not have faith enough to benefit from it by joining in His sacrifice.

When fundamentalists claim that Catholics believe in a weak Jesus whose blood is insufficient to forgive every sin, they are simply whistling past the grave yard.

In fact, that is actually a pretty ridiculous argument. For, if I believed that Christ is not strong enough to save me, by what means could I possibly believe that I could do it?

Yet, there are actually people who have the audacity to suggest that we Catholics think we can out save Jesus because His sacrifice just wasn't good enough. Um! We don't.

The sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice to save every single man, woman and child on earth is affirmed by our assent to the doctrine of Redemption.

The argument; we believe in a weak Jesus, is a red herring created by clever liars to detract from what is the real question at hand.

Jason said...

Michael,

It seems to me that it comes down to the question that was discussed at Trent. I side with Luther because in my reading of Scripture it is apparent to me that we are saved purely by the blood of Christ and not by anything we do. That is justification.

Sanctification is another matter. In your latest you seem to mix the two up. I am not talking about sanctification but justification. How is one reconciled before a holy God? Is is with the completed and sufficient work of Christ. Where we work is with our sanctification, not our justification.

Michael Gormley said...

Redemption: What Christ accomplished once and for all through his suffering and death. Through His passion, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of the suffering servant.

[Isaiah 53:1-6] Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Many people confuse "redemption" with "salvation". Perhaps you can think of it this way; Salvation is the end to be attained and redemption is the means to the end. Redemption is not salvation but the vehicle by which we can get there.

Sanctification: If redemption is the vehicle to salvation, then sanctification is the road the vehicle travels down.

Just as many make the mistake of lumping redemption and salvation together, they often throw sanctification in the same mix.

Sanctification can be thought of as "Saint-ifaction"; the process of becomming saints.

[Romans 6:19] I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.

Michael Gormley said...

Dear Jason,

Justification: The arrival. The means of receiving salvation because of redemption, through sanctification by grace.

This is why scripture tells us that justification is not by faith alone:

[James 2:13-24] For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment. What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?

If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works."

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well.

Even the demons believe--and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness"; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

This is also why scripture tells us that it is not by works (our own efforts):

[Romans 3:28] For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.

Jason said...

Michael,

Thank you for your comments. However, I am confused. Do we have to work or don't we? You tangle the two up.

The system you describe stands contrary to the testimony of Acts, Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, and Hebrews. As Luther rightly concluded from his study of Romans, man cannot possibly have any merit before God. Remember what Isaiah wrote about works. Isaiah 64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Works cannot merit any favor with God. It is simply because of Christ's imputed righteousness (Rom 5) that we have any merit before Him and can enjoy eternity with Him.

As far as your comment about sanctification goes, those of us who have Christ's righteousness imputed upon us are already called saints. Note Paul's greeting in just about every epistle.