Justification By Faith, Part 7

Living vs Dead

Consider this quotation:

James 2:20-25
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?

Does this contradict Galatians 2:16?

Galatians 2:16
Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Of course not. James 2:14-26 is summarized in the tautology:

if you don’t live your faith, your faith is not living, but dead

The difference between living and dead faith is the nature of that faith, not the deeds. To say that deeds are different between living and dead faith is tautological (i.e. circular reasoning) not prescriptive.

Most Christians agree that you need faith and works to be saved because, without works, you are not saved because you have no faith. This is descriptive (correlation), not prescriptive (causation). It isn’t the works that save, but faith. It is impossible to have good works without living faith. Works are the causal result of faith and no amount of works—from the least to the most—merits salvation.

Abraham had faith and works. They worked together. But, Abraham believed God, and that belief was credited to him as righteousness: his belief. By what he did, we could see his faith, the belief that led to righteousness. Abraham was fully justified—by his words—when he believed God’s promise to him of many descendants, though it would be centuries before this would be fulfilled. It was a done deal that still needed to take place.

Rahab was considered righteous, even as she proved herself a sexually immoral liar. Under the Law, her sinful works would have condemned her. But, she was considered righteous for her belief—as demonstrated by saving the spies. Her faith was living because she lived it. Had she not saved them, she would have demonstrated a dead faith (James 2:14-17). A dead faith is one that does not save (James 2:18-19).

Consider these choices:

1) Faith in God alone is needed for salvation
2) Faith and works are necessary for salvation (descriptive)
3) Faith and works are required for salvation (prescriptive)

Of these #1 and #2 are tautologically equivalent. #3 is the RCC position.

The Protestant believes that the Holy Spirit enables one to do good works. This especially emphasized in the Calvinist Reformed traditions on sanctification. The RCC requires that works—obedience, confession, penance, and sacraments—are human efforts required to attain righteousness. In denying the sufficiency of faith and the source of works, it denies the power of the Holy Spirit.

“To redefine faith and say you don’t have true faith unless you have good works just undermines the argument that we are saved by faith alone.”

It is a tautological restatement, not a redefinition. A dead faith is a not living faith (no works). Recall that in Part 3, we found that a living faith is a faith that is lived (works). It is saying the same thing two different ways. Tautology. The opposite of belief is both unbelief and disobedience.

When I say…

“living faith requires good works”

…you might think you hear…

“faith requires performing good works [to be saved].”

…but that is a prescriptive imperative, something you must do. Rather, I am saying that:

“living faith necessarily results in good works.”

This is descriptive, something that will happen.

“You say “It is impossible to have good works without living faith”.

James’ tautology requires this. By definition, a dead faith means not doing good works, so a living faith means doing good works. A dead faith doing good works is a logical contradiction. Does one who performs wondrous miracles—even healing the sick—do good works (e.g. Exodus 7:11; James 2:18-19; Revelation 16:14)?

“So non-Christians are not capable of good works?”

Correct. Good works can only be done in obedience to God. Jesus himself said that prophesying and doing great works (including successfully exorcising demons!) is not good fruit unless it is by the will of the Father (See: Matthew 7:13-23 and Matthew 25:31-46).

Similarly, non-Christians and unrepentant Christians must both leave during the Dismissal because the Eucharist tithes are only good works if they are done in obedience to God, even though the act itself remains physically unchanged. Moreover, “Without faith no one can please God” (Hebrews 11:6). It always comes down to the primacy of faith.

“Who should settle the disagreement between those who cite the same biblical passages to support conflicting positions? Doesn’t that open the door to any private interpretation of Scripture?”

No one. One’s duty is to follow scripture regardless of anything anyone ever says to you (see: 1 Kings 13). If you are set on rejecting the gospel, the argument doesn’t matter. Scripture—the Word of God—is transcendent, not a matter of private interpretation. See this essay by Roman Catholic John C. Wright. For example, ‘Right Reason’ (as Wright puts it) is not a private matter, but your duty to it is individual: you are not excused from its duty because some authority tells you to do or not do it. This is what the man of God in 1 Kings 13 discovered.

God’s Word is transcendent. It is not a matter of interpretation. It is not subject to the dictates of humans. It is not subject to argument or human authority, whether public or private. It stands universal.

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