Purpose of Guarding the Treasure

The purpose of this blog is to encourage readers to invest their time into the Word of God and "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." Paul wrote these words to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:14) in his presumed last letter before his execution. May we be those who see the word of God as a treasure, guarding it with our lives, investing in it with our hearts and minds, and reaping the fruit of an abundant life while getting to know the God who loves us and created us for His marvelous pleasure and glory.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Justification by Faith and Justification by Works

First, let’s provide a simple definition of justification. Webster’s defines justify as "to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable, to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation." The Greek word is dikaioo which means to show to be righteous, to declare righteous.

The Apostle Paul wrote primarily about being justified by faith, but also about being justified by works in the letter to the Romans.

Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.

James, the Lord’s brother, on the other hand, wrote exclusively about justification by works.
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
James 2:24 You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.
James 2:25 And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

Let me say, that I believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, that is they are without error and handed down faithfully by God to us through apostles and prophets, being the very breath of God (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, it is impossible for the words of Paul (man is justified by faith apart from works) and James (man is justified by works, and not by faith alone) to contradict each other. They must both be completely true. Through the remainder of this writing, I think you will see that there are actually two types of justification, one before God by faith and the other before men by works.

First, let's look at what Paul had to say about justification by faith before God.

Please read Romans 3:21-4:6.

Clearly in this passage, Paul teaches that a man is justified by faith, meaning a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ apart from works. Faith is mentioned 9 times in this passage as well as the synonym believe(s) mentioned twice. Romans 4:4-5 clearly contrasts works yielding something due with believing and not working yielding something undeserved, namely righteousness. Paul also shows that two of the most prominent Jewish men of all-time, Father Abraham and King David, were both justified by faith. Jesus is the propitiation (satisfactory payment) for sin and all who believe in Him have eternal life. By faith in Christ, we are born again, make alive spiritually and adopted/born into the family of God. It is not the quality of faith in Christ that saves, but rather the fact that our faith is in Christ. I could have a genuine faith in Buddha to save me, but will never be saved because Buddha is not a savior. It is faith in Christ that has the power for salvation, because Jesus is the Savior!

On May 24, 1738, John Wesley wrote the following in his journal, "In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warned. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." It was at this point that either Wesley first believed in Christ for eternal life, or more likely that Wesley finally had the assurance of his salvation in Christ. Notice the fact that he says that he trusted in Christ and Christ alone for salvation and had the assurance that Christ had taken away his sins and saved him.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Again, Paul taught that man is justified before God by faith alone in Christ alone. There is no room for boasting in ourselves regarding salvation, because our salvation is all Jesus and we can do nothing other than believe in Christ for salvation.

Now, let's look at what James wrote about justification by works.

Please read James 2.

Clearly, James is written to believers (called brethren in verses 1,5,14). James is much like the New Testament version of Proverbs, providing practical applications for Christians and imploring them to live out their faith in Christ.

In this chapter, James starts by first discussing the hypocrisy of showing favoritism and partiality toward the rich while neglecting the poor. Acting in this manner is a poor exercise of faith toward others, failing to demonstrate faith in Christ among men. While these believers were professing their love to others, they were not showing it through their actions. Anyone else guilty of this?

James states that rather than judging others we should love one another (v8). Showing partiality is sin and will result in conviction and later judgment (v9).

James provides a better way to live toward others. If we would like to be shown mercy in judgment, we should show mercy to others. “So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13). Just as grace triumphs over sin (Romans 5:12-21), mercy triumphs over judgment. We must show love, mercy and grace toward all people, for there is no partiality with God (Romans 2:11). If we fail to show mercy and are quick to judge others prematurely, we should not expect to receive mercy at our Bema seat judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). We all want mercy, so we should show mercy to all.

James continues this thought pattern into verse 14. Now he raises the larger issue of the believer who gives no evidence of his faith in the way he lives. If we as believers do not live out our faith in Christ in the form of good works, should we expect God to show mercy to us, should we expect faith alone to save us from His judgment when we stand before Him and give an account of our lives? Clearly the answer to these questions is no.

From this passage, we see that works are a condition for some type of salvation. We know from Paul, that works are not a condition for receiving the gift of eternal life. As such, James is not talking about salvation from hell, but rather salvation from the judgment of God. James is imploring believers to live out their faith by engaging in good works, which interestingly enough God prepared beforehand for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

James also made mention of this type of salvation in the first chapter, “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:21-25)

Let me provide a restatement of James 2:14-17 as provided by Zane Hodges, former Greek scholar and seminary professor from Dallas Theological Seminary (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zane_C._Hodges). "What good does it do, my Christian brothers, if someone among you says he has faith and yet does not act on that faith? Faith certainly cannot preserve his life, can it? It would be the same thing as if one of you spoke to some Christian brother or sister who was destitute of the necessities of life and you said, 'Go home peacefully and get warmed and filled.' But if you did not give them the very things they needed for bodily life, what good would it do? Would their lives be saved by your confident words? In the same way when faith stands all by itself, because you fail to act on it, your inactive faith is as dead as your useless words to your destitute Christian brother. It has no life-preserving power at all!"

James then discusses the importance of showing our faith by our works before men. He states a hypothetical, “But someone may well say, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) Can someone show they have faith in Christ without works? Surely, you can say you do (and you may really be saved), but James is exhorting us to show our faith by our works. James point is that faith is shown before men by works. A person may indeed have eternal life, having believed in Christ, but without showing it through works, no one outside of God will necessarily know it.

Having a monotheistic belief is commendable but not unique in and of itself. Even the demons know that God is one (v19). They shutter at the reality that God is their judge and not their Savior. Our monotheistic belief in our Savior and future judge should prod us on to godly living rather than neglecting our faith in God.

James turns to the worthlessness of an inactive faith. “But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:20) Useless here means inactive and idol. People that don't exercise their faith are lazy. Faith that is inactive atrophies over time and loses its effectiveness to combat sin and death. Rather than useless, the faith of Christians should be useful in fighting the good fight.

There are a couple of examples of believers who were not exercising and maturing in their faith. Notice in the verses below that while the Corinthians were not exercising their faith, the genuineness of their justification was never cast into doubt. In fact, Paul calls them “brethren” as well as the unpleasant labels "men of flesh," "babes in Christ," "still fleshly" and "walking like mere men." Ouch! Paul was indeed accustomed to believers not growing and progressing on in their sanctification.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

The same was true of the believers written about in the book of Hebrews.
Concerning him [Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Clearly, these believers needed to be sanctified and discipled in their faith. They could not yet handle the meat of the word nor where they living fruitful lives for Christ. New believers are born as infants into the faith and need to be trained and equipped in the faith in order to leave infancy and progress toward maturity in Christ. Sanctification is not automatic and requires time, sacrifice, effort and a yieldness to the work and power of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies.

James then sites Abraham as an example of someone who was justified by works. His sacrifice of Isaac demonstrated his faith in God before mankind. We justify Abraham today and acknowledge his faith in God for being willing to trust God enough to sacrifice Isaac. Paul also mentioned the sacrifice of Isaac as an example where Abraham was justified by works. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God.” (Romans 4:2) Notice that the boasting here is not before God, but rather before men. Abraham could not boast in the righteousness he was gifted in Genesis 15:6 by God and received approximately 25 years earlier, but he could boast in the righteous exercise of his faith in his willingness to offer up his son to God for sacrifice. Interestingly enough, God offered up His only Son in sacrifice for us!

James states that this act of obedience proved to the world that Abraham had an active, useful and living faith in God. His coupling of works with faith perfected his faith, taking it to the degree God desires. This is how a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (v24). Without this demonstration of his faith by works, no man would necessary know that Abraham was right with God.

James then sites Rahab, who many may have judged in her day as unrighteous because she was a harlot. However, James declares that she was justified by works when she saved the messengers from certain death. Rahab demonstrated and exercised her faith in God by her works before men (Hebrews 11:31).

James concludes the chapter with an analogy. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) When the spirit leaves the body, the body is dead, inactive and useless. However, there is still a body. In the same way, when faith is without works, faith is dead, inactive and useless, but there is still faith. Here is another present day analogy, when we go out to crank our car, turn the key and nothing happens, we don't say, I must not have a battery. No, rather we say, my battery is dead! May we be batteries who are alive in Christ and not dead in the flesh. May we heed James advice and exercise a living faith and thus be justified by works before mankind.

Barclay wrote "We are not saved by deeds; we are saved for deeds; these are the twin truths of the Christian life. And Paul's whole emphasis is on the first truth, and James's whole emphasis is on the second truth."

Here is what Paul and James might say:
(Paul) If you say you believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life and actually do, then you are justified before God. (James) But if you don't actually apply that belief through living out your faith in Christ in front of others, then your faith is useless and others will not be able to see or know that you are indeed justified before God.

Here is another way to see it.
There are two great exchanges in Christianity:
First, Christ gave up His life to give humanity life.
Second, the believer gives us his life so that Christ can life His life through the believer.

The first exchange is a gift from Christ to the believer while the second is a gift from the believer to Christ. Both cost the giver, but are free to the recipient. From a believer's perspective, the first is justification while the second is sanctification. Paul wrote about justification in Romans 3-4 and sanctification in Romans 5-8. James is exhorting Christians to be sanctified and maintain a useful faith in James 2.

So, let’s get practical. Assume that I see someone not living a Christian life. They have not been justified by works in my sight. My thought should be that they need to hear the gospel and believe in Christ to receive the gift of eternal life and be justified by faith. Now that person could already be a believer, but happened to be living in the flesh when I saw them. The only way I might know for sure whether someone has been justified by faith is if the person tells me that they have already believed in Christ for eternal life. God already knows whether someone is justified or not, but other people can only know based upon what someone tells them and/or what they see. James is saying to believers, “Live out your faith before people so that your faith is useful, productive and beneficial to not only you, but more importantly to those in the world to whom you are called to be ambassador for Christ.”

Regarding assurance of justification, it is unproductive to teach people to look to their changed lifestyle or good works as a proof of their justification because there will never be assurance when we look within ourselves and are honest with ourselves. We are all riddled with sin and so easily fall into it. If Paul called himself the chief of sinners and a wretched man (1 Timothy 1:15, Romans 7:24), where would that put us on the holiness scale? Rather, the focus for the assurance of our justification must be in Christ, His word and His promise that all who believe in Him have eternal life (John 3:16, 5:24, 1 John 5:13). However, looking to one’s works is useful as a determination of how well the Christian is being sanctified, that is progressing as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, namely the evidence or lack thereof of the fruit of the Spirit in our life (Galatians 5:22-23).

So are you looking for victory and how to live the Christian life by faith? I recommend reading Romans 6-8. These chapters discuss victory in the Christian life which involves the presentation of our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness. God invites us to respond to His love by willing coming under his authority as a servant and in obedience to His good and perfect will for our lives (Romans 12:1-2).

Martin Luther had this to write about Romans 6: "In chapter 6, St. Paul takes up the special work of faith, the struggle which the spirit wages against the flesh to kill off those sins and desires that remain after a person has been made just. He teaches us that faith doesn't so free us from sin that we can be idle, lazy and self-assured, as though there were no more sin in us. Sin is there, but, because of faith that struggles against it, God does not reckon sin as deserving damnation. Therefore we have in our own selves a lifetime of work cut out for us: we have to tame our body, kill its lusts, force its members to obey the Spirit and not the lusts. We must do this so that we may conform to the death and resurrection of Christ and complete our baptism, which signifies a death to sin and a new life of grace. Our aim is to be completely clean from sin and then to rise bodily with Christ and live forever."

1 comment:

Joshua Milligan said...

That's probably the best summary discussion I've seen on the subject of justification by faith/works in Paul and James. Paul is very clear that justificaiton is through faith and not by works -- he even puts faith and works at odds with one another when it comes to obtaining eternal salvation (Eph 2:8-9).

So many people assume that when James asks if such a faith can save that he is stating that faith alone cannot save a persion from hell. But you've nailed it; in the context James is speaking of the judgment of God on a believer who has either shown mercy in his own life or not. It is salvation from a merciless judgment which cannot be avoided unless the believer has lived out his/her faith (i.e. lived a life of mercy and compassion towards those in need).

Paul speaks of this same judgment when he says, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." Not to be judged as to whether or not we'll enter eternity with him, but as to whether or not we'll be rewarded and hear him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."