Few things are as controversial as the Christian doctrine of justification by faith.


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Most of the controversy flows from abuses within the Roman Catholic Church. Protestantism continues to overreact to those abuses to the point of going to an opposite extreme. Some reference points in sorting out the controversy are as follows:

1. Protestant denial of the obvious: In the NT, Christians are frequently described as being saved by grace (e.g., Gal 2:16) but judged by works (e.g., Gal 5:21). (Also see 1 Cor 6:9-11; 2 Cor 5:10.) Interestingly, both Catholics and Protestants relate works to salvation. It’s just Roman Catholics are up-front about the connection between faith and works while Protestants tend to smuggle works in under the guise of sanctification; e.g., “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”– Heb 12:14 (KJV).1 Many other references are possible. The main point is NT writers clearly have no problem with being saved by faith while being judged by works.

2. Failure to recognize different views of history within the NT: Several views of history are evident in the NT. Failure to appreciate the peculiarities of each view confuses theology, especially the theology of how faith relates to works. In brief, NT views of history relate to the controversy as follows:

a. The Realized View of History: In this view, God’s future reign is already present in the church. That is the reason salvation can be spoken of as being “now.” Baptism (so often portrayed negatively by Protestants as a “work”) is the biblical pattern for humanity’s response to God’s inbreaking kingdom. Unfortunately, many Protestants substitute the “sinner’s prayer”2 without recognizing that it too can be understood negatively as a “work.” One can easily argue that the credibility of the sinner’s prayer has now suffered from the same kind of historical abuses as baptism (and circumcision)– such that God’s name is blasphemed by “faith without works.”

b. The Unrealized View of History: In this view, God’s reign is not completely realized– hence the idea that the present hope of salvation can be lost by the absence of good deeds and the presence of evil ones– or more correctly as we shall see, a neglect of the Spirit that leads to the same outcome.

c. The Hyper-Realized View of History: In this view, present/future states reinterpret past/present conditions. For example, “he that is born of God (present) overcomes the world (future),” with the implication being that whoever does not overcome the world was never really born of God in the first place. In this view, salvation and election occur before the foundation of the world. It is interesting to note that in Reformed theology, the “unconditional” in “unconditional election” means salvation is not conditioned on anything– not even by faith and certainly not be works. Instead, God preordains those who will have faith and works before they actually have either.

3. Conception of Salvation in Individualistic Terms: Another complicating factor is the reduction of salvation to a one-on-one transaction3 between God and the individual– a reduction that makes it easy to consider salvation as a totally subjective thing (mental assent) without connection to the objective world (works). This is foreign to the biblical worldview, which views salvation as incorporation into the people of God– an incorporation that demands objective grounds that necessarily involves some kind of “work.” 4 Note that …

The church is the temple of God– “… you [all] are the temple of God… “– 1 Cor 3:16.

Salvation equals incorporation– “… added to their number those who were being saved”– Acts 2:47.

The church is where salvation is worked out– “… work out your salvation”– Phil 2:12.

4. Misunderstanding Paul’s objection to law-keeping (works): Contrary to popular impressions, the NT often does reflect a positive view of law. Consider the following:

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill– Mt 5:17-20.

… the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. … the Law is spiritual… .– Rom 7:12-14.

Love… is the fulfillment of the law– Rom 13:10.

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers– Jas 2:8-9.

… and on and on.

The tension between positive (above) and negative views of law can be traced to Paul’s rejection of a Jewish understanding of law-keeping as boundary markers for a Jewish ethnic religion. In ancient times, many Jews had apparently transformed certain aspects of the Law into identity markers (into “works of the Law”) that symbolized God’s special concern for the Jews– a claim to divine favoritism that built a wall between the Jews and others– God’s name was blasphemed among the Gentiles.

That appears to be the subtle but important meaning behind Paul’s use of the phrase “works of the Law”– the most prominent “works” probably tracing back to historical confrontations between Jews and other peoples: circumcision, Sabbath keeping, food laws, ceremonial cleanness, and Temple worship. Those were the “works of the Law” sectarian Jews held so dearly and Judaizing teachers pushed so relentlessly onto Gentile converts– and those were the intolerable impositions that Paul railed against so strenuously in Romans and Galatians.

So the conflict between ethnic and cross-cultural religion is most likely the context for understanding how the Apostle Paul could be so negative about the Law on one hand, yet so positive toward it on the other. For those who trusted in their ethnic religious identity, Paul could say…

… a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law– Rom 3:28

For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse… .– Gal 3:10

… while also affirming that …

“Love… is the fulfillment of the law– Rom 13:10.

5. A faulty concept of justification in terms of right deeds: A simplistic view of the atonement sees it as the basis for a legal fiction in which God imputes the right deeds of Christ to Christians by virtue of their faith, not just in Jesus, but more broadly in a particular substitutionary view of the atonement. In that light, any attempt by Christians to actually be righteous (right deeds– i.e., works) is deemed an offense to God. A better view is to see the atonement as an expression of God’s righteousness in terms of His relationship to His creation as redeemer, with His redemption actually making provisions, not just for an imputation of righteousness, but also for actual righteousness. In this view, the connection of faith with works is actualized first in terms of relationship in the outpouring of the Spirit and second in terms of works in God-ordained deeds– Christian baptism being the premier act. Both are works of God (outpouring of Spirit and Spirit-inspired response) such that all the virtue (merit) inheres in God and not the believer. Right relationship (faith) and right deeds (works) are therefore bound together in the life of believers in baptism and its aftermath– the associated renewal of the Spirit (Tit 3:5). Thus the works of believers flow, not from themselves, but from the Spirit that indwells them. Believers can therefore be justified by faith while being judged by works because the absence of works falsifies any claim to faith and to the Spirit.

A closing thought…

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

Returning to Item 4 above, the “works” Paul rejects in v.9 are not “works” in general, but a particular kind of “works”– the kind that are the object of boasting– the kind that stand opposed to the works of v.10– the kind that are opposed to God’s purposes. That’s the negative point. The positive point is an implication of accountability– the connection of good works, God’s purposes, and salvation by faith.

— historeo.com

historeo.comhistoreo 2

1 Although some would deny sanctification is necessary as in the “Lordship Salvation” controversy.

2 Note that the pattern of prayer in response to the gospel has it occurring after baptism. For example, Jesus prayed after he was baptized (Luke 3:21) and Ananias commanded Paul to be “baptized, calling [praying] on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).

3 Every individual becomes a miniature Abraham with his or her own covenant with God. Also note that the offensiveness of “works” to many Christians often seems more related to enthusiasm for Existentialism than for the biblical doctrine of justification by faith.

4 Note that a “work” can be efficacious (effective in bringing about a result) without being meritorious in the sense that the virtue (merit) of the “work” resides in the one performing the act. Also note that disdain for “works” often seems to flow from a Gnostic-like rejection of the material world as having significance.

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1 Comment on Saved by Faith– Judged by Works

  1. WORKS THAT SAVE AND WORKS THAT DON’T

    THE WORK THAT SAVES

    What work endures to eternal life.

    John 6:27-29 Do not work for the food perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, for on Him the the Father, God has set His seal.” 28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He as sent.”

    The work that men do to be saved is believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and their Lord and Savior and that God raised Him from the dead. Yes, there is a work that men do, that can save them. Believing is the work men that do that saves.

    THERE IS A WORK THAT GOD DOES, THAT SAVES.

    Colossians 2:12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in whichyou were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

    God does the work in water baptism. Not men.
    You cannot separate faith and water baptism.
    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved….

    1 Peter 20-21 …safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to thatbaptism now saves you —not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience— through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    You cannot separate faith and water baptism. Man’s work is to believe. God’s work is to forgive men of their sins.

    Colossians 2:12-13…….When you dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

    You cannot separate faith and water baptism.

    WORKS THAT DO NOT SAVE.

    Galatians 2:11-16….16 nevertheless know that a man is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ Jesus and not by works of the Law; since by works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

    The apostle Paul was not telling Cephas (Peter) and Barnabas,
    that believing in Jesus was a work of the Law Moses,
    that being baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins was a work of the Law of Moses,
    that repenting (turning from unbelief and making a commitment to turn from from a sinful lifestyle and turning toward God) was a work of the Law of Moses,
    that confessing that Jesus was the Son of God, their Lord and Savior and believing that God raised Jesus from the dead, was a work of the Law of Moses.

    FAITH-REPENTANCE-CONFESSION and WATER BAPTISM are not works of the Law of Moses.

    Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been savedthrough faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.
    Colossians 2:12 ….baptism…through faith in the working of God…
    Ephesians 2:9-10 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in the.

    Believing in Jesus is not a good work.
    Repenting is not a good work.
    Confessing is not a good work.
    Being baptized in water is not a good work.

    Believing (John 3:16) Repenting (Acts 2:38) Confessing (Romans 10:9-10) and Water Baptism (Mark 16:16) are all essential for salvation, however NONE of them are Laws of Moses nor are they good works.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http//:steve-finnell.blogspot.com

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