Monday, August 11, 2008

Faith Alone!

by Robert Fraire

Recently I was asked about the "contradiction" in the Bible concerning the sufficiency of faith in the realm of salvation. The question went like this. How can you say that salvation is by faith alone when James 2:20 clearly says otherwise? Or put another way: In James 2:20 and 2:24 we read:

20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Yet Romans 3:28-30 reads

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law ... since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

Now on the surface these two passages might seem to be in contradiction. So what are we to do? Do we shrug our shoulders and say it is some sort of mystery? NO, we must not do so. It would be a fatal flaw in the Christian faith if it could be successfully argued that the Bible teaches (in the same manner and sense) both salvation by faith apart from works, and salvation by faith requiring works.

If so basic a tenant of Christianity such as salvation is unclear or self contradictory, then what is the Gospel message? Christianity would be irrational. Unfortunately too many Christians are willing to live with this proposition. We too often don't do the work necessary to find out what the Bible really teaches and instead settle for a "blind faith" that says, "I love Jesus and He loves me, so I'll leave the Bible for those theologians."

That is not our calling. God has given us His word in order for us to read it and put its words into practice. Are you willing to state that God either chose to be unclear when he inspired scripture or was unable to be clear? God forbid.

So let us look at what does the Bible teach concerning faith and works. In this post I will lay out a summary of the Biblical view of Saving Faith and Works. Then is latter posts I will explore many other issues that play into this truth.

The bottom line is that Salvation is an act of God. He chose us (Eph 1), He called us (John 6:44), He regenerated us (John 3). It is this regenerated person with a new nature that is able to truly comprehend the truth of his condition and his need for Jesus Christ. This man understands and believes God (faith). At this point it becomes a reality in time that the man's sin were imputed onto the account of Christ and God imputes Christ's righteousness onto the account of the man (2 Cor 5:21). At this point God declares the man justified, he is now irrevocably "saved" and all without any works (or meritorious actions) on his part. Even the faith he exhibited was due to God's work of regeneration. In this way his faith was a gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8,9
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, so that no one may boast.

So then what does the passage in James mean? Did James get it wrong. Should the book of James be removed from the Bible as some have suggested in the past? No and No.

Looking at the context of James 2 with give us the picture.

James 2:21-23
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God.

Here James is explaining his terms. He demonstrates that Abraham didn't just profess that he had faith. He, in fact, acted in obedience to God which demonstrated the faith that he already possessed. Abraham would not have been willing to offer Issac on the alter, if his "faith" had been a lie. Those that truly believe in God with act in accordance with that belief. If you claim that you believe in God and then do directly what he commands that you not do then it demonstrates a lock of faith.

In other words in James 2:24 when he makes his conclusion that man is justified by works and not by faith alone. He means that we are justified by True faith. And that faith will in fact lead to us living and doing what God commands. We are not saved be something called "faith" that has no Godly actions associated with it.

This is exactly in harmony with the rest of scripture. Since God has made us new creatures in Him, we act like new creatures that love God and strive to please him.

I pray that you will ponder these truths and not settle for an irrational faith.


Bruce Mills said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Mills said...

Hey Robert! Welcome back to Inverted Planet! I was beginning to think I had lost you. Anyway, great post! I like the way you used Scripture to comment on Scripture. That is always the best approach to gaining an understanding of a text. It keeps us from going astray into spurious interpretations. You sort of beat me to the punch, because I have been working on my next Sunday School lesson on Romans 3:21-26 where faith is mentioned over and over again as the means by which the righteousness of God is acquired. I was thinking about writing something on it for a post, but now I’ll have to wait until your series is concluded before I write something on the same topic. Good job, and write more often!

Chris said...

"God either chose to be unclear when he inspired scripture or was unable to be clear? God forbid."

James was a Church leader... Paul was a Church leader they appear to contradict each other. This bothers us more when it happened 2000 years ago than when it happened yesterday. I don't know why. I think it is simply that God permits unclarity... it's that whole free will thing. He chooses to let us help with his agenda, and we make occasional (or frequent) mistakes. It's a subtle encouragement to have a personal relationship, rather than rely on the go-between.

"I love Jesus and He loves me, so I'll leave the Bible for those theologians."
This seems a little Judgmental... The Bible is difficult reading, and life is busy. If I have been given circumstances and a hunger to study scripture in depth, can I really take the credit for it? When I do read my Bible, without the benefit of any theological training, It can be very confusing. But Jesus loves me...

Nice Blog, by the way. I TRIED not to get on my soap box:D The divorce post really got my dander up.