Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Salvation is of the Lord, Part 4 of 9

For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” Romans 4:2-5.

Here again we find a fatal blow to the argument that the Bible never says “faith only” saves. I admit, if you are looking for the exact words “faith only” you will not find them. Yet it is erroneous to teach that since those precise words aren’t in the Bible the evangelical view of salvation by faith alone is unbiblical. Scripture declares that, hundreds of years before the Law was given at Sinai, Abraham was justified by his faith in God.

And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise,” Galatians 3:17-18.

The covenant, or promise, was confirmed to (not with) Abraham, and had been confirmed in eternity past in the Godhead, Ephesians 1:4; Titus 1:2. Abraham’s works served to justify him before men, which was the perspective James wrote from in his epistle. Paul uses this quote from Genesis 15:6 to demonstrate that we are not justified by our works before God; only our faith in Him garners us the imputed righteousness we need to be declared justified. James was writing from the perspective of men, who only see our works.

This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men,” Titus 3:8.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” Matthew 5:14-16.

Bear with me as I quote James at length to discuss faith and works.

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” James 2:14-26.

The actions of Abraham reflected his faith, and revealed to him (not to God, who already knows the heart) his relationship toward God. Abraham trusted God, and now it stood apparent the depths of that trust; so much so that Abraham was confident that even if Isaac had been slain God could have raised him from the dead. We are told in Hebrews that without faith no action we take can please God; it is impossible to please God without first possessing faith, Hebrews 11:6. Later in the chapter we read that when Abraham offered up Isaac on the alter it was in faith; it was not the action that justified Abraham, it was his faith in God that made such an act pleasing to his Lord, Hebrews 11:16. Abraham possessed a living faith that had been tested. James speaks of those who possess a dead faith that is bereft of complimentary works. If it is dead it was once living; if it has gone barren it is because it was no longer rooted in the true vine, which is Christ, John 15:5-6. Before pressing on read James 2:18 as the apostle presses the emphasis of his argument: show me your faith and I’ll show you mine. Since we know that we are not justified by men but by God it is clear that James is challenging spiritually lethargic Christians to live out the faith they confess before men.

For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire,” 1st Corinthians 3:11-15.

Paul informed the Corinthian Christians that some believers would proceed to judgment and have all of their works burned in fire at Christ’s judgment seat, Romans 14:10. Here believers will have their works done in the flesh tried, to see what was done in the Spirit, and what was done in the flesh. Those whose works were done in the flesh shall suffer the loss of all reward but they shall still be saved. Even those with dead faith the likes of which James describes may still be found in Heaven because God sees the heart and knows those who have trusted in Christ for eternal life. To judge any other way is to judge as men do: by appearance and comparison. Paul regards this as unwise, 2nd Corinthians 10:12. If the criterion is faith in Jesus Christ alone, as I am attempting to demonstrate it is, then misusing James’ epistle to teach otherwise is contrary to Scripture, legalistic, and leads people not into the freedom of the gospel but the chains of bondage. I will give an example of attempting to verify one’s salvation by works. If I compared myself to Paul I would despair of life; but I heard report that before infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered in prison he received Christ as his Savior. I would judge that I would get into Heaven before Jeffrey Dahmer because I didn’t murder children. Yet in the gospel we find those who are lowest on our social totem pole receiving Christ eagerly, far before the morally good people. Why? As Jesus said, to whom much is forgiven, the same loves much, Luke 7:47.

This may be a good time to make note that no amount of works are prescribed in the Bible as to how much or for how long one must continue striving before we can be reasonably assured that we have pleased God. If works were essential surely this topic would have been addressed at length. In fact, if we want to be “ultra-literal” James tells us that Abraham and Rahab were justified by committing a single work, and that singular work served to perfect their faith, James 2:21, 25. They were justified (aka saved). In that case Christians need only to find that one single work that must be done to perfect our faith, and then we shall be saved. Is James suggesting “faith plus one work” salvation? It is folly to build doctrine off of this one passage, because we see the logical errors that ensue when we do so.

Read Part Three?


  1. I am really enjoying this study on Salvation Ian. Sometimes folks make it so difficult to be "Saved" when our Lord made it so simple. God bless, Lloyd

  2. Another great post, Ian.

    It is troubling how many refuse to leave their salvation entirely to Christ, insisting that they have some part in making it happen rather than accepting it as a gift.


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