Thursday, April 03, 2008

Justification by Faith, or Faith and Works

Dave, Asker of Good Questions, left this question in a comment a couple of days ago. It came as a result of reading a book about the reformation:

"... one of the main points of contention was justification by faith alone or justification by faith and works (faith without works is dead). I've always loved the book of James in the NT but never hear it preached. So I admit to being a faith and works guy ... what say you oh wise women of Whatever He Says?"

I'd love to hear what others have to say on this too, but it made me think about what I've been reading in The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. I love the way Pastor Nee sets things out systematically. He establishes a foundational point through scripture and then reinforces it several times over so that you really start to "get it," and when you have really "got it," he builds on the point as if he is building a great cathedral.

The Normal Christian Life is a book about the two problems mankind has; "Sins" and "Sin."

When I think about justification, I think about "Sins." I remember learning years ago that to be "justified" meant "just-as-if-I-died."

Romans 8:33-34 (New International Version)
33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Watchman Nee says, "Never should we try to answer Satan with our own good conduct but always with the blood."

However in my NIV Life Application Bible commentary on the book of James it says about some Christians, that, "Possessing all the right answers, they contradict the gospel with their lives,"

James 2:18 (New International Version)
8 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

We cannot separate the two things, which seem to contradict one another, but really fit together like a hand into a glove.

I think that the passage that states this most perfectly is in Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:8-10 (New International Version)
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In these verses is evident that we need do nothing and can do nothing in order to be saved, but need only accept the free gift of salvation and yet we are created "for" something.

Isaiah 53:5 (New International Version)
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

I once heard someone preach on this verse in Isaiah and say that the word "iniquities" referred to our proclivities; our tendencies and inclinations. He was crushed for them because they are part of our flesh, as a bruise is part of our flesh. So he was pierced for our transgressions, our past violations of the law. But he was also crushed for the way we are "bent". The price was paid for both, and as we open ourselves to his Holy Spirit, he will come make us new inside, giving us new desires and new hearts. Out of this new life flowing within, will come a desire to live a life that honours him and shows that we are, as James says, "Doers of the Word." (James 1:22-25)

Thanks Dave, for giving us all something to think through and try to express in words. The point is that we gravitate to justifying ourselves by what we do but we can never do that.

And yet; what we do matters.


Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks Belinda, I believe that if one 'believes' one is moved to action. Even if that action is invisible - like a quiet prayer - but that someone who is so loved by God must DO something in response. I am familiar with the verses you quoted and like others am moved by the greatness of the gift - but as I grow older the responsibility of being a 'heir' is entering my mind with greater force and frequency.

Anonymous said...

Being convinced of God's love results in the joy of the Lord revealing itself in your life. However, if you have many snares and much baggage, accessing that joy can be a challenging thing. Thus, the journey. When we are on that journey, we hit lows and we hold fast to faith, but it may have absolutely NO fruits in our behaviour. When we plateau and ascend toward the father and we have loosed those fetters even for a moment or a day, the results are clear for all to see.

This old faith and works argument is valid to a point, but to be human is to struggle. And sometimes faith pulls you through works (and sometimes it doesn't) and sometimes works can pull you through to faith when it's dim. It's like the old marriage therapy -- in tough times act like you love your spouse til you do.


Belinda said...

Amen, dear brother and sister. Wonderful and precious thoughts.
Blessings on your day!

Joyful Fox said...


I've thought a lot of your question and the verse you quoted in James (faith without works is dead).

I liked your comment, "Oh wise women of whateverhesays, what say you", it made me chuckle.

Your writing is so engaging and comfortable. You're just such a likable guy and disarming. Hey, you don't even have to pay me for that.

I also was speachless for a while because I was wondering - do I fall into the "wise women" or am I just part of the package,... sometimes I don't feel very wise.

But...for whatever they're worth, I do have comments.

So much of scripture has to be taken in context and there are so many "mysteries" we "work out while we're on this globe."

The reference from Ephesians(2:8-10 that Belinda quoted) is the primary foundation I believe. Our salvation is a gift of God so we may not boast. No works can draw us closer to God or make us more clean or holy (i.e. doing actions out of guilt) God's salvation is not about us but about Him.

We do our good works so others may see and glorify our God in Heaven.

Yet He has indeed, prepared before we were born "good works", that we should walk in them. As we become more holy, as He is holy; more loving, as He is LOVE, then from that pour good works. Our good works is an outpouring of our faith.

Our hearts (motivation) is so important to God. It is only He who knows are hearts and therefor knows why we do what we do. Sometimes we deceive ourselves and we think we're doing something for God and really it is to relieve guilt, draw attention to ourselves, or distract us from the 'work' He has even called us to. i.e. it's easier to help our neighbour sometimes then clean up sin in our own lives.

When we have faith and love for Christ, works do flow. However we can do works without faith or love for Christ. Thus there's a lot of wonderful human beings on this earth who do lots of good works but it may not be as a result of acknowledging God. Another paradox.

Then there's the scriptures that make us think and understand, "The first shall be last, the last should be first." And, "It's the foolish things that confound the wise of this earth" and "My ways are not your ways."

To live in awe of our creator from where all wisdom and knowledge had it's beginning. To seek Him above all things knowing if we seek, we will understand, if we ask, it will be given and if we knock, the door will be opened to us.

Good question Dave. To explore these develops our faith because only with His help may we understand. Our seeking together draws us closer to Him too until we know Him fully in his perfect love, this imperfect, beautiful, messy love on this planet is all we got.

Thanks for providing this opportunity to think and explore together.

Love to all of you and may we seek Him and know Him as He wants to be known.

Night Owl said...

Wow, you guys changed the blog background and stuff... It looks so cool! :) (Just goes to show how long it's been since I've been here... but I have been reading the posts. :))
Anyway, I had a question... I don't understand how justified could mean just-as-if-I-died. :S
Thanks! :)
Night Owl (who is very unhappy about having to get up at 6am to get to school on time...)

Belinda said...

Night Owl! Welcome back. I have missed you.

I'm sorry if I didn't make that sentence clear. What I meant was that because God is a god of justice as well as love, there had to be a punishment for sin, but Christ died in our place, taking our sin upon himself, so it was "just as if I died," which means that I am justified by his sacrificial death on the cross. Does that make more sense now?

Susan said...

And I've heard Pastor Burston (Belinda's father-in-law) teach that it could be interpreted as "just-as-if-I'd". Just-as-if-I'd-never-sinned. I've never forgotten that...

The Sheepcat said...

Interesting discussion.

Of course, huge amounts of ink have been spilled over the issues of justification, and the nature of the disagreements among Luther and the Catholic Bishops (and popular expressions of Protestant and Catholic piety, which might or might not have conformed to official teaching).

I studied the question of justification fairly closely three years ago when I was considering becoming Catholic and then have actually paid little attention to it since; once I concluded that only Catholic and Orthodox Churches had internally consistent accounts of how they rely on sacred tradition, then it followed pretty automatically what I should accept about justification, for it is clear that the Catholic view matches what the early Church taught. The idea of justification as a legal fiction (i.e., that one is declared justified without being changed by God) was a very late theological innovation that had been repudiated by the early Church. This I learned from a hefty tome by the Anglican scholar Alister McGrath, Iustitia Dei (and I have borrowed here from one of the Amazon reviews of his book, which I can't find at the moment).

Joxful Fox's warning against impure motivation is fully acknowledged by Catholic teaching: "One and the same action can also be inspired by several intentions, such as performing a service in order to obtain a favor or to boast about it... [A]n added bad intention (such as vainglory) makes an act evil that, in and of itself, can be good (such as almsgiving)" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1752-1753)

On the necessity of grace, without which good works are not possible, Protestants and Catholics are agreed. We Catholics just have access to better teachings about merit in particular and grace and justification in general!:-P

So, Dave, old friend (from MCCT days), check us out. And God bless you as you strive to respond faithfully to His wonderful gift.