Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Scripture About Justification to Works, Part II

Many people have trouble reconciling James' words with Paul's.  They believe that James is speaking of a works-based righteousness and Paul is speaking of a faith-based righteousness.  Their conclusion is either these two writers are in conflict with one another or that salvation is based on a combination of faith and works.  Neither is the correct understanding of what James is saying.  James is trying to call out those who think that just believing that there is a God is not true faith.  It is only when we are compelled to react to this knowledge of God that we have faith.  Works are evidence of our faith, not a means by which we are justified.  James 2:17 reads, "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."  We are not justified by our works, but we demonstrate our faith through them.  If we claim to have faith but we are not changed, then it is not true faith but dead faith.  Calvin concludes that faith "justifies not because it grasps a knowledge of God's essence but because it rests upon the assurance of his mercy."

Paul and James both use the word "justify" but in difference senses of the word.  When Paul uses the term "justify" he is speaking of "when the memory of our righteousness has been wiped out and we are accounted righteous."  James wrote, "And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:23-24, NKJV).  James is not speaking of the imputation of righteousness, instead he is speaking of the declaration of righteousness.  Calvin writes, "he is not discussing in what manner we are justified but demanding of believers a righteousness fruitful in good works."  In Battles analysis of this section he writes, "James is fighting an empty show of faith which cannot justify, and says that a justified person declares his righteousness by good works."

Romans 2:13 reads, "for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified."  Some use this passage to try to defend their concept of a works-based righteousness.  Calvin responds to this passage, "Here the apostle is casting down the foolish confidence of the Jews, who claimed for themselves the sole knowledge of the law, even while they were its greatest despisers."  The Law is works based, but that does not mean that we are able to be justified through our works.  Not one man has ever fully kept the Law, therefore no one can be saved by it.  Calvin states it this way: "the righteousness of the law lies in perfection of works; no one can boast that he has fulfilled the law through works; consequently, there is no righteousness arising from the law."

There are numerous Psalms where David and other authors appeal to their works before God.  They claim their innocence and righteousness.  Calvin explains that these saints recognize their sinfulness and are not claiming that they are free from guilt.  "While they appeal to God's judgment to approve their innocence, do not present themselves as free from all guilt and faultless in every respect; but while they have fixed their assurance of salvation in his goodness alone, they still, trusting in him as avenger of the poor afflicted beyond right and equity, assuredly commend to him the cause in which the innocent are oppressed."  In many of these passages, the writers of the Psalms are calling for God to be a judge between themselves and the ungodly people who are oppressing them, not bragging to God about how good they are.

There are a number of passages speaking of those who are upright are counted as righteous.  Calvin writes, "But let one of Adam's children come forward with such uprightness."  There are none who have lived up to this standard.  There are those who speak of "accepting grace," which is a false doctrine that claims God accepts works by ungodly people as sufficient for salvation.  Calvin simply responds by reminding us that these works are not acceptable and no works are sufficient for salvation, but it is God's mercy.  There was (maybe still is) an idea in the Roman church that the saints are perfect.  Calvin says that the only time when anyone achieves perfection is after they have put off this "sinful flesh" and "cleave wholly to the Lord."  Augustine wrote, "When we call the virtue of the saints perfect, to this very perfection also belongs the recognition of imperfection, both in truth and humility."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.18.1-3.18.5

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