Monday, February 25, 2008

Faith and Works?

After a fairly eventful debate with some friends I said I would write a post relating to how faith cannot be an action, i.e. something we do. The passage given against my argument comes from the book of James, using the ESV translation:

Faith Without Works Is Dead
14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith(S) but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15(T) If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16(U) and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith(V) apart from your works, and I will show you my faith(W) by my works. 19(X) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even(Y) the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21(Z) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that(AA) faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed(AB) by his works; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says,(AC) "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a(AD) friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way was not also(AE) Rahab the prostitute justified by works(AF) when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.


An initial reading of this seems to suggest a necessity for works both for salvation and that faith in itself is a work, but it is important that we put the Bible together as a whole, picking out one passage seperate from any other is unwise, lets look at this by an example from Luke 24:

26(A) "If anyone comes to me and(B) does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters,(C) yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.


If one were to simply read this verse and not take the Bible as a whole initial reading suggests that one is to hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters and their own life! Is this really what Jesus meant? Well no, He was using hyperbole to express his point and if we take the whole of scripture into consideration it is easy to see this, for we are told in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5) that to hate is to murder and we are told in the ten commandments (Exodus 20), thou shalt not murder.... thus the above passage taken on its own could cause us to draw the wrong conclusion. That being that Jesus is encouraging us to sin.

Similarly with the passage from James it is necessary for us to look on it in the light of other scripture, lets take a look at the concept of faith alone in the Bible. We have the following verses:

Romans 3:28 (ESV)
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the
law.

Galatians 2:16 (ESV)
yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but
through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ
Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works
of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 3:2 (ESV)
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the
law or by hearing with faith?

Galatians 3:5 (ESV)
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you
do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—

Galatians 3:10 (ESV)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is
written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written
in the Book of the Law, and do them."


John 3:16-18 (ESV)
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever
believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God
did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in
order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes
in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned
already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of
God.

Ephes. 2:8-10 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your
own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no
one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus
for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in
them.

Romans 4:1-10 (ESV)
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather
according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he
has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the
Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as
righteousness." 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted
as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but
trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as
righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one
to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7"Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."

9Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the
uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as
righteousness. 10How then was it counted to him? Was it before or
after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was
circumcised.

So where am I going with this, well it seems that we have a contradiction. The Bible clearly teaches in the above that works are not necessary for salvation but in James it seems to teach that they are necessary! So which is it? Lets go back to the passage in James:

18But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith(V) apart from your works, and I will show you my faith(W) by my works. 19(X) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even(Y) the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21(Z) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that(AA) faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed(AB) by his works; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says,(AC) "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a(AD) friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way was not also(AE) Rahab the prostitute justified by works(AF) when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

The first thing to note is that James is a book not about justification but sanctification, to put differently Paul is talking about how we are saved, James is talking about after we are saved. Paul talks of justification, James of sanctification. Both justification and sanctification are Biblical concepts, God brings us to salvation and then by the work of the Holy Spirit in us he sanctifies us, i.e. he makes us more Christ like. What James is speaking of in the above is the sanctification process, he is saying something like this 'Woah guys, you say you've been justified but I don't see no santification going on, if you had been justified then fruit (works) would come from it. You can say whatever you like but if you believe there will be fruit!'

If we turn to the opening part of James statement we see that verses 14-17 provide a sort of outline for what follows, in verses 18-20 we see what he is arguing against:

18But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith(V) apart from your works, and I will show you my faith(W) by my works. 19(X) You believe that God is one; you do well. Even(Y) the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

We see here that he is arguing against people who profess to have faith but no works come of it. True faith causes good works. A rejection of sanctification is to reject faith. We must keep in mind what James is arguing against as we proceed as this provides the context for what follows.

Now, lets take a brief look at Abraham and Rahab, beginning with Abraham, the story talked about by James is the (near) sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis 22, lets take a look at the first three verses:

1After these things(A) God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." 2He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to(B) the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."

Look at the very first verse, it says God tested Abraham. Justification in the sense Paul talks of isn't tested for there is nothing to test, a person without faith will not show faith! In Abrahams case he has faith and God is testing his faith. Putting another way the sacrifice (the work) is a consequence of a faith that Abraham has - not faith itself. If one wishes they can read the rest of the story to see that Isaac is not in the end sacrificed, God provides a ram to be sacrificed in his place.

Now lets turn to Rahab, the story of Rahab is in Joshua 2. To cut a fairly long story short, she hides some spies and hence saves their life. Lets pick out verses 8 and 9, they say the following:

8 Before the men [2] lay down, she came up to them on the roof 9 and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.

So what do we see here? We see that Rahab is already talking of the Lord... in other words she already has faith! Her actions are again a consequence of her faith not a part of it.

It is possible (as we see in the world) for people to have works without faith however, it is not possible to have faith without works, for when we have faith God sanctifies us. This is the point James is trying to make and why he is not in contradiction with Paul. In Pauls case he is using justificiation in terms of our salvation. James is using it in terms of our sanctification.

Does this make faith a work?

Back in some senses to the original question, am I suggesting then that faith is a work? No, for we see the beauty of the cross inEphesians 2:8-10:

Ephes. 2:8-10 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your
own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no
one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus
for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in
them.

If faith is a work and we are saved by faith then the above is contradicted, there is a dependence on us. We have a reason to boast (I did well for I had faith). If we look at this passage in Ephesians it shows the process, we are saved by grace, through faith. It is a working of God and NOT a work of us so we have no reason to boast (Thats justification)... but we are created in Christ Jesus for good works and we should walk in them (That'd be sanctification.)

Final Thought:

It is important to note that our salvation by grace through faith and aside from works is not a reason for us to blindly sin and not do God's will (this is in fact what James is arguing against!) in fact doing so would simply constitute unbelief. The above belief does not change that a Christian should do good works but gives a different motivation for doing them, that being one of gratitude for what God has done rather than necessities for our salvation. Jesus sacrifice was completely sufficient (see my post on the blessing of scrupulosity)

References/ Further Reading:

http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/doctrine/GES17.htm
http://www.rabdavis.org/james.htm
http://www.biblegateway.com/

P.S. Apologies for any typos etc, comments of course welcome!

2 comments:

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ems d said...

Interesting Calvin... I think that you are very correct in what you are saying :-)

I think that the key verse for me is Ephesians 2v8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your
own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no
one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus
for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in
them.

We are saved through faith only -not of our own doing.

BUT as a result of that salvation we will do Good Works - it is a natural and essential outpouring of our salvation (so love verse 10 too and the idea that God has it all prepared beforehand but that is another day's conversation!).

It is interesting that Jesus (in Matthew 7) talks about knowing people by their fruit. He is talking about false prophets but I also think it is a general principal. As a Christian, our fruits should be a godly lifestlye and good deeds.
I think this is what James is getting at - You can talk the talk, but can you walk the Walk.
Jesus says that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven"

Look too at Rev, when Jesus is talking to the 7 churches he starts each passage off with "I know your deeds". No mention of 'heart' or 'faith' .

Clearly we need faith to be saved. It is a free and awsome gift from a loving God. But we are expected to go on with that, through grace, and have our works match our heart.

Grace empowers us to keep the new covenant -a standard much higher and impossible to keep than the law (matt 5 21 onwards)

I guess for me it is a case of 'The proof of the pudding is in the eating' :-)

Hope this consitutes a suitable comment- it might be jumbled as it is too late to be thinking deep thoughts.