Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Justification: Romans 4 and James 2

Why is this so difficult for people to grasp and wrap their heads around? Seeing, are they not able to see? Hearing, are they not able to hear? Every single person I talk to about this has their thinking wrapped up in "Works of the Law." They cannot see the forest for the trees.

Speaking on the subject of justification, one person recently said to me, "Romans 4 teaches that Abraham was justified in the sight of God before he did any works." I am sorry, but, no, it does not. Romans 4, following on the heels of Romans 3:28-30, is still addressing justification "by faith apart from works of the Law" (3:28). In Romans 4, Paul is demonstrating the fact that Abraham was justified in the sight of God before he had been circumcised. But Abraham was justified by his works when he offered Isaac up as a sacrifice. Separate issue entirely. Circumcision became part of the Law, but Abraham was justified before he was circumcised. The Jews taught that you had to be circumcised in order to be justified. Since the Gentiles were uncircumcised, they, too, like Abraham, could be justified apart from circumcision.

Everyone I speak to on the subject of justification continually misses the point, regardless of how many times I explain it or how much I break it down. Like the fools who consider commands and demands for holiness to be nothing more than legalism, the people I speak to continually consider all "works" to be Works of the Law. The fact is, there are at least three different types of "works." Romans 4 is speaking with regard to Works of the Law. James 2 is speaking with regard to Faith in Action. Two completely different kinds of works. Stop confusing the two! Yes, Abraham was justified before having done any Works of the Law, but he was justified by his works (Faith in Action), which worked with his faith in order to perfect and complete his faith (Jam. 2:22). Faith by itself is useless and dead (Jam. 2:17, 20, 26)!

The problem of confusing the works James is speaking of with the Works of the Law Paul is speaking of is a general problem. It is the problem with the Catholics, the problem with the Reformed, the problem with the Presbyterians, the problem with the Baptists, etc. It appears to be everyone's problem. For some reason, they have all been brainwashed into thinking all "works" are Works of the Law. They cannot seem to grasp and wrap their heads around the fact that two different kinds of works are in view. We know that Works of the Law cannot save; they cannot justify. But these are not the works with which James is speaking of. How do these people fail to see this truth?

The doctrine of Sola Fide is unscriptural and needs to be rejected on account of what Scripture teaches. Pay close and careful attention to what it is that James says:
  • Faith by itself without works (Faith in Action) is dead (v. 17).
  • Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works (v. 18).
  • The demons believe in God (v.19). Their belief does not mean a thing.
  • Faith without works (Faith in Action) is useless (v. 20).
  • Faith without works (Faith in Action) is dead (v. 26).

Christians... Stop being proud and stubborn; start being humble and teachable! When you grip what you have been taught so tightly that you are unwilling to allow yourself to be wrong and/or to be taught, you are on dangerous ground. Doing so is not being like the noble Bereans who "searched the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11), nor is it attempting to fulfill the command of 2 Timothy 2:15 to "study...rightly dividing the word of truth." 1 John 4:1 tells us to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God." I urge you to do so with what I have been saying. You will see that it is the truth. Do not be proud and stubborn. Do not be afraid to admit when you have been wrong. Do not be unteachable. You must be willing to conform your beliefs to the truths of Scripture. Scripture alone is our final authority pertaining to matters of faith and doctrine.

Over the past 10 years, my beliefs have been rapidly changing in order to conform to Scripture as I study God's Word. This is to be the attitude of every professing Christian. Just because every commentary you read says the same thing does not mean they are right in their interpretation and understanding. It also does not mean they are wrong. Every one of us needs to approach Scripture and study it without our pre-suppositions. We have to be willing to let God direct us. If Scripture is teaching us something different from what we have been taught and believe, and we know it, quenching that teaching is going to do us more harm than good. We are not to believe what we believe stubbornly because of how we were raised and what we were taught. There is no humility or teachable spirit in that.

Let me try to dumb this down as much as I can possibly think to do. If God said to Abraham, "If you jump two feet into the air, all these promises will be yours." It does not matter how much Abraham believes what was just said to him. Until he actually jumps two feet into the air, his faith is useless and dead. God had made all sorts of promises to Abraham and then given him a son. Then God asked Abraham to offer his son up to Him as a sacrifice. Abraham's actions to go through with what was asked of him demonstrated that he believed God. As John Owen said, "Obedient faith is that which saves." As John Calvin said, "Good works are always connected with faith." Faith and works must go hand-in-hand in order to perfect and complete the faith in question. Otherwise, faith in and of itself, by itself, is useless and dead.

It is not a question of how much works; that is once again confusing Works of the Law and/or Good Deeds with Faith in Action. Yes, Good Deeds will inevitably stem from genuine faith (feeding and clothing the poor, etc.), but those are separate acts of faith. Good Deeds are the third type of "works," but they also do not save. If God asked Abraham to offer his son up as a sacrifice and Abraham went out and fed and clothed the poor, would that have had anything to do with God's request and Abraham's faith? No! The Faith in Action must be equivalent to the faith being had. If I have faith that sitting in a chair will support my weight and keep me from crashing to the ground, I have to actually sit in the chair in order to perfect and complete that faith. The woman with the issue of blood who believed that if she just touched Jesus' garment that she would be healed, had to actually touch His garment. If she believed that touching His garment would heal her and then she shook His hand and walked away, her faith was useless and dead.

James' words are for the church today: "Show me your faith without works." It cannot be done! The majority of people in the church today make professions of faith in Christ Jesus, despite living in open sin like the devil. There is no external evidence that demonstrates their faith is real and genuine, yet they profess to have faith. This is a direct result of people believing they are justified "by faith alone" without the need of anything else. And who can argue with them? If faith alone justifies them, then living like the devil has no bearing on the genuineness of their faith. But Scripture everywhere repudiates this! That is not what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23. That is not what Paul said in Romans 8:13. That is not what James said in James 2:14-26. That is not what John said in 1 John 3:4-10.

Paul says, "A man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28). James says, "A man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jam. 2:24) There is no contradiction here. Paul and James are in perfect agreement. They are addressing two completely different concepts of "works." How is it that the people I speak to continually miss this point? How is it that every theologian seems to miss this point? The doctrine of Sola Fide says we are "justified by faith alone." Scripture says we are "justified not by faith alone." Which do you think a good, obedient Christian will conform his/her beliefs to? Yes, the latter, because Scripture trumps man's traditions, doctrines, and systems of theology every time.