Errors of the church of Christ (29) – Abraham’s Justification
5. In James 2:14 in the Greek there is a modifying adjective in front of “faith” which is left out in the King James translation, but is translated in other versions as “the” or “that” or “such.” So James is asking here, “Can such a faith save? Or, “Can that faith save?” Notice also that James does not deny that faith justifies; he simply says, “and not by faith only.” So James acknowledges that it is indeed faith that justifies. Most theologians down through the ages have insisted that the way to reconcile the biblical message of faith and works is to explain that works describe a true saving faith but do not save unto themselves?
6. James gives us the clues we need. First of all, James makes it clear how futile it is to think that we can be saved by our works. He insists that even one single sin on our part is equivalent to breaking the entire law (James 2:10)! Then in verse 14 he asks an explanatory question whether a dead faith can save us? (Can that faith or such a faith save us?) Of course he means, no it cannot. Then in verse 18 he says that a living saving faith is shown by our works. So James is not saying that we are saved by works, rather our obedience is evidence of a legitimate faith.
So, there is, then, a simple way to reconcile faith and works in a way that is faithful to Scripture without making Scripture contradict itself. We are saved by a living faith—that is, one which expresses itself in obedience. Note that this is very different from saying that we are saved by faith plus works or any such construction. We are saved by grace through faith, not of works can we boast.
RT – Okay, you and your “most theologians” remark is to be set aside. Let us consider the context. “Faith is to be understood how? I suggest one’s “subjective” faith, one’s response of the heart to the Lord’s will. It is used that way in 2:14, 17. In 2:18-20 “faith” is used in conjunction with “works” and the two are tied together. “Works” in this particular portion of the chapter is dealing with the good one may do toward another. In 2:21-24 “faith”, “works”, and “Abraham” are all tied together. The Scripture plainly teaches that Abraham was justified by works. The word “justified” means what? Two Greek dictionaries define the word “to declare righteous, justify” (Mounce, p. 374; Vines. P. 625). This notion of “forensic” and “vindication” (as some like to insert here, thus making a distinction) James says nothing about. It forthrightly declares that Abraham was justified by works!
7. C. K. Moser gives several biblical examples of how it is faith that saves, regardless of whether or not that faith is expressed in some sort of action. He cites the stories of Jesus healing the blind in John 9 and Matthew 9. In one case, the blind man did something—washed in the pool of Siloam. In the other case, nothing was done other than what Jesus did. Moser asks, “Were these blind men cured upon different principles? In both cases the blind received sight upon the principle of faith in Christ. In one case faith expressed by overt acts, in the other case it was not. After all it is faith that the Lord wants….Faith expressed remains faith.” (See Moser.) Comment?
RT – If the recipient did not respond to what Jesus said that person would have to do, then that which was promised would not be granted. Jesus told the man to go to the pool and wash; if he did not go would he gain his sight? To ask is to answer. With regard to the account in Matthew 9:27-31 we learn that there was a response to what Jesus asked, and in this response it was the Lord’s doing that brought sight to the eyes. In both contexts we learn the following: Jesus called for a response, and in both contexts a response was given. Second, the accentuation is upon Jesus and less so upon those with whom Jesus interacted. Third, the matter pertains to physical healing.
8. What about repentance—isn’t that a work? Please see this link: Repentance. What is the relationship between repentance and salvation? What was Peter calling his hearers to do relative to repentance in Acts 2:38? Was this an action or a change of mind? Moser continues, “But salvation is by faith. Repentance, then, must in some way relate to faith. And it must relate to faith in such a way as not to oppose it.” We argue that repentance is merely the flip side of faith. If you turn to Jesus you will by definition turn from your life of sin and selfishness. You will automatically repudiate your fleshly nature. This is the deep meaning of repentance. So, repentance is technically not a work per se. It is part of surrendering to Jesus that occurs at the point of a living faith. After we are saved by faith, we begin to show outward confirming acts such as confession and good works because of our gratitude for what God has done for us. Confession is faith expressed in words (Romans 10:9). Again, it is the faith that saves, not any expression of it. Comment?
RT – If a person is called upon to repent (Acts 2:38), that particular person is called upon to do something. If faith is a work (John 6:29), there is no possible way that repentance can’t be. You try to distinguish between an action and a change of mind, but if faith is a work – which is an “action” of the heart, then repentance is the same. Moreover, the New Testament does not say or even intimate that repentance is the different side to faith – not once! You said, “If you turn to Jesus you will by definition turn from your life of sin and selfishness. You will automatically repudiate your fleshly nature.” If this is not an action, nothing is.
9. What about baptism? Isn’t it a work? Just as repentance is technically not a “work” of man, baptism is technically, according to Titus 3:4-7, not a work of man either! Baptism is a work of God! This leads us into the next section. But before that, one last word. If we are wrong in this, our error is putting too high a view on God and his work (and too low a view on our own work). If the Church of Christ is wrong on justification, your error is putting too low a view on Jesus (and too high a view on man’s work)! Comment?
RT – It’s is good to see that you recognize that baptism is not a work of man, but it is a work of God.