3/15/2008

Faith + Works

I have spent many hours contemplating the relationship between faith and works. I have found it difficult to establish this relationship in my mind. Christ often speaks in such a way as to warn us that works are the basis of our judgment before Him (e. g. Matthew 16:24-26 and Matthew 25). Jesus also speaks of the fact that we are justified by faith (Luke 18:9-14, John 5:24, 6:47). I have found one illustration to be helpful to me, and I have come to the place where I accept the truth behind the illustration completely.

I am taking this example from a series of lectures by John H. Gerstner on sale from Ligonier Ministries here. Another example of Gerstner’s writing on this subject is here.

The relationship between faith and works in church history can be summarized by three equations:

FAITH + WORKS = SALVATION

FAITH – WORKS = SALVATION

FAITH = SALVATION + WORKS

I’ll take these in turn.

FAITH + WORKS = SALVATION
This is a summary of the traditional Roman Catholic approach. Our faith leads to justification, but that faith also leads to righteousness being put into the heart of a person. The works which come from this heart of faith earn salvation for us. Salvation is dependent on faith, but in a sense, it is also dependent on works.

This approach can be seen in books by certain modern authors, Brian McLearen for one. I wonder if this is also to a measure the approach of N. T. Wright. There are places he seems to affirm that justification is by faith alone, but there seem to be times when he relates salvation to the entire life that a person lives.

This approach is easily answered by an appeal to two passages. The first is the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. This is a parable told by Jesus that teaches very clearly that a person who cries out to God in faith is saved. There is no reason to think that works played any part in the tax collectors justification. The Pharisee is condemned for basing his cry to God on his own works. The tax collector, an example of a social outcast who most of Jesus’ hears would consider beyond the hope of salvation, is different. The tax collector’s cry of “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” is followed in short order by Christ’s declaration that, “This man when down to his house justified rather than the other."

Paul is most clear in Romans 4:1-8. The person “who does not work” is “credited with righteousness” because of his “faith.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

FAITH = SALVATION - WORKS

There is another version of false teaching that I personally have been exposed to by dispensational teachers (e. g. Charles C. Ryrie). In this scheme, faith leads to salvation without any works whatsoever. A person can claim to have faith by praying a prayer, walk an aisle, being baptized, etc. That person is then saved, even if he continues to live just as he did before he professed faith.

This teaching leaves out the idea that a person who comes to Christ in faith is born again (John 3:1-8). it ignores Christ’s clear teaching that if we do not trust Him when he tells us how to live our lives, we will not trust Him when He teaches us how to get to heaven.

Paul is very clear that anyone who is born of God “…is a new creation, the old has passed away … the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). He gives specific examples of the ways in which a person’s life must change when he comes to Christ (e. g. Galatians 5:16-24).

The faith that saves is the faith that works.

FAITH = SALVATION + WORKS

The last approach is the only one which satisfies the conditions of the verses cited above, namely that faith leads to salvation and works. Works do not earn our salvation, but they are absolutely necessary if we are saved. “The only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). James is also quite clear that …… (James 1:22-27, 2:14-26).

Our good works demonstrate to ourselves and to others the true nature of our profession of faith. Do you have a faith like this? Have you come to Christ in the faith that works? Christ clearly commands us to “… come follow [him]” (Luke 9:23). I pray that you do.

3 comments:

Steve Newell said...

There is an option that you have not considered your "Faith + Works" analysis. This would be Faith = Salvation which leads to Works. Works is the natural outcome of salvation.

In James' letter, he does not state that faith and works are both required for salvation, but that faith leads to goods works. Goods works is an evidence of faith. If the Holy Spirit is not producing goods works in one's life, then that person's faith is dead.

Another key issue is "What is a Good Work?" I believe that many times, what we consider a "good work" is not true good work and we don't think of as a "good work" is really a good work.

J. K. Jones said...

Steve,

Godo to hear from you again.

I agree. That's what I was trying to say when I talked about FATIH = SALVATION + WORKS.

Faith leads to works.

J. K.

Steve Newell said...

JK,

What way you wrote the "formula" makes faith the driver for both salvation and works. For many Christians, they view "faith" as a driver, i.e. Word of Faith teachers. That's why I wrote what I did.

Faith is not what causes salvation but it is gift along with salvation.

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