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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Dead Faith?

“For just as the body without the Spirit is dead, so is faith without works dead being alone” (James 2:26).

One of the great debates within so-called Christendom is just how works and grace interact in the salvation of man. The Roman Catholic church officially stipulates that works are a part of the justification process and that, although grace is necessary to bring about the salvation of the soul, it is not in and of itself sufficient for that purpose. This was perhaps the greatest “bone of contention” between the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, et. al.) and the Roman church. Whereas Rome dogmatically set forth the essential nature of works in contributing to a man’s salvation at the council of Trent—including baptismal regeneration—the Reformers insisted that grace alone, through faith, was the vehicle through which God saved the sinner.

Alas, the battle has not abated. Not only is the Roman church insistent on the necessity of works, but a host of other sub-Christian and even some you think of as genuine Christian groups have sought to insert man’s works in the process of justification. On one end of the scale we have such groups as the Latter-Day Saints who clearly and boldly proclaim that works are not only necessary, but paramount when it comes to man being saved (2 NEPHI 25:23). (I must point out, however, that the concept of salvation that the LDS Church puts forth is quite different than the true Christian doctrine. In Mormonism, salvation is a multiple tier system involving even the possibility of salvation beyond the grave).
Then you have the other side of the coin with the non-Lordship salvation proponents. To them, anything that even smells of a work is rejected out of hand. Thus, even repentance is shunned and looked upon as evil and an attempt by the Devil to trick us into working for our salvation. But it doesn’t stop there. To these folks, you can even fall into serious, habitual, continuing and ultimately permanent sin and you’ll still be saved. And why not? The basis for their salvation in the first place is an extra biblical one that centers around a personal decision once upon a time which, as if by magic, locks in the person into his salvation and is completely divorced from the actions of the individual after that point. Thus, whereas the Bible declares that “we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which He appointed we should walk in” (Ephesians 2:10), these individuals will have us believe that such a concept is an option. I even heard one of its proponents say that, since James speaks of dead faith, then there must be such a thing. This was said in the context that people with “dead faith” can still be saved since that is another kind of faith! (I suppose you can have any kind of hyphenated faith and it will all be okay in the end!!).
But you also have a third group that is perhaps just as, or even more dangerous than those two. And it is those who have their most visible proponents in the so-called New Perspective on Paul (NPP) movement. Perhaps the most famous of these individuals is NT Wright, a British theologian who, somehow, after thousands of years found the true key to Paul’s theology and lo and behold, the church had it all wrong all along. Contrary to what the Reformation taught concerning justification and its forensic nature, the NPP seeks to convince us that the death of Christ did not have forensic overtones, but rather was simply intended to bring into one body both Jews and Gentiles. The theory goes that Jesus did not die to save us from sin and to input His righteousness on our behalf, it was rather in order to bring down the wall of partition that separated Jew and Gentile. Although Jesus certainly destroyed that middle wall of partition, as Paul calls it in Ephesians 2, the idea that anyone could read Paul’s dissertation in Romans and come away with anything other than the fact that Christ’s death was accomplished for our justification strains credulity. (“He was offered for our transgressions and raised for our justification” Romans 4:25).
But the most distressing aspect of the NPP, is that it seeks to convince us that justification is not only not a forensic action by God in what some have termed the “Great Exchange,” it also attempts to make of justification a life-long process. Similar to the Roman Catholic idea, NPP teaches that we are not finally justified until our last day. Thus, we go through life with partial justification and only in the end do we attain the full justification that God promises (a sort of life-long justification without the purgatory). How anyone can have any peace with God—as Romans 5:1 promises—under such a system escapes me. If your justification is a process that will only be considered completed at the end of your life, then what guarantee do you have that you’ve accomplished the right kind of works, in the right kind of order and with the right kind of attitude to gain that justification? Such an idea is not only illogical, it is, more importantly, unbiblical. The Bible clearly teaches that we are justified in Christ the moment we believe and surrender to His Lordship (Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, etc.).
There are many who, even in many cases, with good intensions seek to embellish the gospel. They seem to be incapable of accepting the fact that it is God who has done all the work of salvation and that we are simply the recipients of such work. They cannot conceive of a salvation that does not involve human effort. But God has indeed provided us with the Lamb for our sacrifice. Not only so, but the Lamb He provided was His Own Son. Thus, God not only gave us the remedy for sin, but He did it all from start to finish. It is all too true that as Martin Luther put it “we have an irresistible urge to work for our salvation.” But we don’t have to; indeed, we don’t need to and we must not, lest we find reason to boast in our accomplishment. But the inevitable result of such a salvation will be fruitfulness. A dead faith is an oxymoron. Thus, we do nothing to earn our salvation, but we do plenty to show it.


  1. I believe the Eastern Orthodox has a similar problem vis-a-vis works being necessary for justification. I watched a video of Hank Hanagraaf discuss this in rebuttal to John MacArthur (I think).

    I don't believe Biblical Christians minimize or dismiss the importance of works as the Holy Spirit works out our sanctification as we seek to be more closely conformed to the image of Christ, Who, incidentally, did all of the works His Father assigned Him.

    My basic problem with justifying works is, who decides whether a work is "good enough" to demonstrate justification. The moment someone decides he or she is qualified to make that judgment they now occupy the space reserved for the Judge of the Universe. And anyone who is willing to declare a person outside of God's saving grace because of an absence of justifying works must be reminded of Paul's words in Romans 8: Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died, more than that Who was raised, Who, indeed, is interceding for us..."

    Enjoyed the article. Thanks for letting me put in my 2 lepta.

    1. Jim, it's great to hear from you. And your "leptas" are always welcomed! You're completely right in what you say. It is impossible for us to determine just how much is enough. That is the problem that the Muslim has above all others. He is completely dependent on God's "good graces" and on what he has done while on earth. If that's not enough, he has no way of knowing! Add to that the fact that God does it the way He does in order to eliminate our boasting, and you come to the necessary conclusion that it is He, and He alone, who provides the way of salvation. It is either of works or of grace, you can't mix the two. Man has this irresistible urge to feel like he's doing something to earn his path to God. Let's not destroy the simplicity of the gospel with our insistence on "earning our keep." Thanks.