We are in the season of Christmas. Hubby and I are not 1%ers, but we are so incredibly grateful that we can do something for others who are in great need, at this time of the year, and throughout the year, even though, in the scope of great need, our contribution is tiny, tiny. Remember Hillary Clinton’s, It Takes a Village? Well, I agree that it takes the citizens of the world to care for others – individually, not through the United Nations, not through Unicef, not through AmeriCorp or most of the “charities” that come to mind, but straight from my home and yours, and through our churches – whatever we are capable of doing, while still being able to care for our own families.
Living in a country that documents our right to follow our Christian faith is the greatest blessing on the face of this earth, in my opinion. There is no greater impact on my life, than the freedom to acknowledge my belief in Jesus Christ. My freedom to choose where, when, how and if, I will worship, where, when, how and if, I will study God’s word.
Which brings me to the reason for this particular post. Is it unChristian not to care for and about others – a creed I must follow to profess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior? Are my “works,” along with my faith, the path to God’s acceptance? It’s an ages old conversation, and from my acquaintance over the years, I know the ‘conversation’ carries with it some angst. The following is one of the best explanations of this conundrum that I have found.
My favorite Christian blogger, Carl Middleton at GOD’S ANSWER is always Jesus, has given me permission to reprint this week’s study on “Works.” Carl’s studies, and word studies, always bring out things I’ve missed or forgotten. “Works” is a very proper subject for the season. I hope you will receive a blessing from his ‘work.’
[Please note that the references to Toys for Tots, The Wounded Warrior Project and St. Jude’s Hospital are mine, not Carl’s. We all have our own ways of how we “share our wealth – meager or not” with others. These are three that I care deeply about.]
by Carl Middleton
Originally Posted on December 3, 2011
Galatians 2:16 … “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
What does it mean … to be justified? The word itself means … “to show or regard as just or innocent … to be righteous.”
In this article, I want to look at Paul’s understanding of justification by faith alone, without works, and compare it to what James said about faith and works.
Let me first start with Paul … He has been speaking in Romans 3 about any natural advantages Jews might have over Gentiles because of the law; and he continues his point in Romans 4.
Romans 3:27-28 … “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law?Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
The two words … works and deeds … were translated from the same Greek word, “ergon” which means … toil, an act, an effort. So, when Paul says “works or deeds of the law,” he is meaning the same thing; making an effort by what you do to earn or add to your salvation.
Romans 4:3 … “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
Romans 4:5 … “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
It’s not that the believer does not work at all, but he does not work in order to obtain salvation; he does not seek justification by his efforts to earn it.
Paul of course, is not saying that Christianity does not produce good works, or that they who are justified no longer have to obey God’s moral law or live holy; but rather, that no righteousness of their own will be the foundation of their justification. We don’t have any righteousness.
This doctrine by no means interferes with the doctrine that good worksare to be performed by Christians. Paul urges this as much as any other writer in the New Testament. His doctrine is, that they are not to be relied on as the basis of justification. That Paul teaches the producing of good works is readily apparent from the following scriptures …
2nd Corinthians 9:8 … “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”
Ephesians 2:10 … “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
2nd Timothy 3:17 … “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
Titus 3:8 … “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.”
In my own personal life; even what I usually emphasize in my teaching … what I believe … is that works have nothing to do with salvation or justification. Now in saying that, I fail to articulate that the Scriptures really speak of two types of works.
Doing the works of the Law, trying to fulfill all it requires to earn salvation is totally different from the good works, the good deeds that proceed out of a heart of love for others as you represent Jesus to them.
But at the same time I would be amiss if I didn’t warn believers that bydoing good works they cannot add one thing more to their salvation or even make God love or think more highly of them. Yes, we will be rewarded for what we do. But those things done for reward will be burnt up like straw stubble in the fire.
Nicholas Herman, a seventeenth century Carmelite monk from French Lorraine said this about works … “God regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” As it always is with God, it’s a heart thing.
Now, turning to James and the point he is trying to make about works, I want to consider three verses…
James 2:17, 2o, 26 … “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone … But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? … For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
James has just said that the believer who never feeds the hungry or clothes the naked might as well not have any faith at all, because that kind of faith … kept to yourself … is useless. What good is faith alone; it might as well be dead.
When Paul says that “a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law,” he plainly speaks of another sort of work than James does, but not another faith.
There is only one faith that counts … faith in Jesus Christ. What you do with that faith is the thing that both Apostles are questioning. James teaches that people are supposed to be able to see your faith in action … by your good works.
Paul speaks of works done in obedience to the law of Moses before men embraced the faith of the gospel; and now he had to deal with those who valued themselves because of those works … some rejecting his teaching of faith alone for salvation.
James speaks of works done in obedience to the gospel as the proper and necessary efforts of believing in Jesus. But Paul magnifies faith alone by showing the insufficiency of any works of the law in opposition to the doctrine of justification by Jesus Christ … period. James magnifies the same faith, by showing what are the necessary products of that faith … good works.
Paul speaks of different works from those insisted on by James. Paul had to deal with those who depended on the merit of their works in the sight of God, for their justification and righteousness.
James had to deal with those who confessed faith, but would not allow works to be used even as evidence. They depended upon just their profession of faith as sufficient to justify them. So to these he urged the necessity and importance of good works … loving and helping others.
The justification which Paul speaks of is different from that spoken of by James. Paul speaks of our souls being justified before God, and James speaks of our faith being justified before men.
“Show me thy faith by thy works,” says James … “let thy faith be justified in the eyes of those that behold thee by thy works.” But Paul speaks of justification in the sight of God, who justifies only those that believe in Jesus, and then … purely on account … of the redemption that is in Him.
So we see that we are justified before God by faith … but our faith is justified before men by our works.
Browse through Carl’s blog. He posts once a week, and you are sure to find a subject that will touch your heart and boost your knowledge base, all backed up with scripture.