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When you ask: What is a Christian ?, then first you need to know with what we are starting.
1. Ourselves. Jesus said to a crowd of people listening to a famous address - the Sermon on the Mount - which He was making, "If ye, BEING EVIL..." He said this quite openly. You will notice it in Matthew 7:11. It contrasts men as evil with God as GOOD.
Paul refers to all men not accepted by Christ and outside His life, as "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). He stresses that. He was once in that class himself, the Class of the Children of Wrath. It is not a good class to be in. Those "without Christ" are people "having no hope, and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). As Isaiah, the prophet most quoted by Christ, put it: "We are as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (64:6 ). Notice that the most right thing, in men without Christ, still lacks holiness: not just the admittedly bad, but even the apparently good thing is as a filthy rag.
Now you may feel that you are better
than that; that you have certain qualities which don't need adjustment,
a heart which doesn't need cleansing throughout, and that you most certainly
would not deserve to die if God were to give you what you deserve. You
may deny that you are a sinner without any hope in yourself, and that the
wages, the result, the product, the value-added, of sin is death (Romans
6:23). In that case, you will not be able to get along with Christ who
said: "I did not come to call righteous men, but sinners to repentance,"
Matthew (9:13). You could also then reject the similar statement which
He made, when asked about a tower falling on and killing some innocent
people who were about at the time. He said:-
2. "Except you repent, you will all likewise perish" - Luke 13:3. You see that means that in justice, perishing is what what a man deserves... and will get unless he repents. Paul says the same thing in many places, but we note Acts 17:30: "These times of ignorance God has overlooked but now commands all men everywhere to repent." Paul goes on: "Because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He has ordained, of which He has given assurance to all men, in that He has raised Him from the dead." Jesus said: "The Father judges no man, but has committed all judgment to the Son, so that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father," (Acts 10:42-3).
Notice then the first action. Repent. You are each one, a sinner without any guarantees from God in yourself - except judgment. The first thing: Repent. At Pentecost, men asked Peter what they should do : Repent, he said (Acts 2:38), at the head of his short list.
Repentance translates a Greek word indicating a thorough change in your heart, your mind and attitude. You turn completely around. You turn with abhorrence from past sins. It means that you are sorry, not for yourself but for your sins. It is a gift from God (Acts 11:17-18, II Timothy 2:25). Seek it. God desires to save, but only on His terms (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:1-3).
3. If you repent in favour of Christ as your Lord, admitting that you are a sinner needing to repent; if you see a need also to be saved from the power and penalty of your sin, its power to grip you and the guilt of it, and to take Christ as your Saviour; and come to Him (John 6:37), then you are converted. You do not convert yourself; Christ converts you. The change of attitude, the deep sorrow over what has grieved God, in you, is associated with God's turning you in your whole nature, positively towards Himself. You turn from that (repenting), and you are brought instead, face to face with Him, in your nature and your spirit (being converted). Thus Jesus said: "Truly I tell you, Except you are converted, and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).
Notice that a total change in you and worked upon you, is required. This happens when you come by faith to Jesus, the Lord's Christ (Luke 2:26); for He will receive you only as He is: Lord and Saviour, Lord of your life: as Saviour from sin and all its consequences.
4. When you do come to Him, take Him as just as sure a way to God as a door - and "enter" trusting that He will do all He says, trusting IN Him (John 3:16, 10:9): then you receive more than great grief at sin and a complete face-to-face turning to God. You receive a new nature. What would be the use of turning sadly from sin to look regretfully at Jesus ? The rich young ruler did that, but he would not accept Christ's diagnosis, or follow Him. He felt something ; but he did not act on it. Christ loved him, but he was not saved then. He kept the same nature. He kept his love for something else more than Christ. Christ will not have that: Lord of all or not Lord at all. That is the position.
Consider Luke 14:33. Here Jesus says that if you do not "forsake all", you cannot be His disciple. Release your hold. Turn everything to Him. He will take only what is necessary that He may give eternal life.
Notice how definite Christ is. He is the most decisive person who ever lived as a man. No half-measures or "waffling"!
Let us see now: you repent, and are converted, and truly coming as a little child to Him, you find a most remarkable thing. You have been changed. Your nature has been changed. This is called regeneration - He "generates" you again. You are "born again" (John 3:3). You were first born without God and the love of Him; but now a new nature is given to you. You are not "patched up", but produced all over again. Paul says (II Corinthians 5:11):
Therefore if any man is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature, old things have passed away, behold, everything have become new.
And again, Christ declares:
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).It is like infra-red light for 'seeing' at night; if you are not equipped, you cannot see.
Nicodemus (John 3) asked Jesus how he could be "born again"... (A thorough reading of this chapter, would be of inestimable value.) Jesus in reply made it clear that this was an operation in which God - to put it one way - was the Doctor, a spiritual transformation. Thus you become a new sort of person, a branch in the vine, one supplied by the sap (here a figure for the Ho1y Spirit), and kept pruned by a loving Father.
Now notice that this great change is brought about by a tremendous vital action of God. Notice too all the "musts" and excepts "which we have struck: you must repent; you must be converted, you must be born again: and to start with, you must know that you are a sinner, in order to see the need to repent. Christ, we saw, is not concerned, will not save people who think they are good without Him. He came not for righteous people but sinners (Matthew 9:13, Luke 5: 31-32). Unless the ''righteous'' repent - those filled with their own spiritual self-satisfaction, showing dullness to the spiritual brightness of the reality of God - they will ''all likewise perish'', as will all who will reject Him (Luke 13:1-3; John 3:17-18, 3:36).
This means that a man should "count the cost" (Luke 14:28-33). Jesus taught that. Consider what it will mean... to be a Christian. Christ loves you, in that He is love (1 John 1:8, Colossians 2:9, John 14:9), but He will not lower His standards or cease to be holy. He died to give you a way in. He keeps sin out of heaven and saves heaven from being... hell. You must respond. In the last resort, God will move, and it is He who has worked out the result. But He seeks you and judges justly. He ''came to seek and to save that which was lost'' (Luke 19:10).
At any time, by His grace, you may respond to His call and thus come to Him. It is important that when He calls, you should come. Till His return, from heaven (Acts 3:19-21), He works by His Spirit (John 16:5-15), who focusses Him in the heart, and applies His work (Romans 8, Ephesians 1).
5. Now recall that as you repent and are converted, turning to receive Jesus as Saviour and Master, you are coming to Someone who died to make a way home, back to your Creator (1 Peter 3:18). God hates sin, just as antiseptic is deadly on germs. Sin separates you from a Holy God (Isaiah 59:2); and it is not merely a question of actions, but of attitudes, and the very dull quality of a spirit which is not in God's loving presence. God is honest. He does not wink and blink and pretend, and say you're all right when He knows you're not. Sin kills fellowship with God, and only by removing it, killing it, 'taking it out of the way' (Hebrews 9:26, Colossians 2:14), 'bearing it in His own body on the Cross' - does Christ save (1 Peter 2: 24).
All who believe the report of Christ, who make His life a sacrifice for their sin (Isaiah 53:1,10, Hebrews 10:5-22, John 6:53-54) have this disqualification removed, the sign of the sovereignty of sin. God can now accept them (Romans 3:22-26), and declare them to have a right standing before Him, acquitting or "justifying them", as the Scripture declares. For all who do, He made an exchange: He took the sting, the power and the penalty of our sin and gave us His right standing and the soundness of His right standing with God (II Corinthians 5:21).
This means He paid. It is like a farm lost through bad use, and sold. A friend buys it back - a relative perhaps (cf. Hebrews 2:14-16, Matthew 20:28, Hebrews 9:13-16, Leviticus 25:23-28, Romans 3:23) - and gives it back to you. In the Bible sense, that man would be your redeemer, as far as your farm was concerned. Thus the Bible states that the man whose debts to God are settled through the death of Jesus on the Cross, has been redeemed. His soul and even his body (Romans 8:23) are redeemed. Therefore he has new life now (Romans 5:15, 6:23, Ephesians 1:11, 2:8) as a gift of love, a glorious companionship with God Himself, and an endless possession of his heavenly home, to which also he will be resurrected (II Corinthians 5:1-6, John 11:25-26, 5:28-29, 14:1 ff., 5:24, I Corinthians 15:21-26, Hebrews 9:12-15).
Christ gave His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28): the guilt of sin, the result of it, the dispossession, the separation from God, the power and the by-products, the very end - death: He took and tasted. When in Him, you are complete - restored (Colossians 2:10, 11-14, Galatians 4:4-7). Yet, "without me, you can do nothing," - John 15:5.
7. Thus you repent, are converted, receive Christ and are born again (cf. p. 1043 infra). You are redeemed. Your status and your state both change radically. Now we must see clearly that in all these things, there is a fulfilment of God's plan, the saving of a sinner. God loves, gave, acted, offered. When you repent and receive Christ, leave sin to Him and yourself for Him as absolute boss, as your Lord and your God (John 20:28), you come to One who is ready to forgive, and whose offer is accepted. Thus your sin is forgiven. The Lord now 'forgets it' (Hebrews 8:12, Micah 7:17-19). He has a "dead" reckoning on it, has destroyed its whole structure (Romans 6:6) and stands ready to wash, walk and work with these, His new sons and daughters who have believed (cf. p. 491 infra).
8. Dead reckoning ? The Lord Jesus Christ is alive:
I am He who lives and was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore. Amen. and I have the keys of hell and death (Revelation 1:18).The devil himself will have a messiah, a 'christ' of his own (11 Thessalonians 2); and Paul (II Corinthians 11:4) spoke of "another Jesus" and "a different spirit" and "a different gospel", noting that in Galatians 1, it is not another. Obviously, false Christ's do not save; misuse of names does not perform the function of salvation. Nor do they secure its fruits (Galatians 5:13-6:10).
This Jesus Christ who died on the Cross, also rose, breaching death's rule by His own law of life (Luke 24:39, Acts 2:23-33, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Romans 8:1-3), substituting for the law of death and justice, that of mercy and peace, through His payment, thereby securing both justice and mercy. It is in this bodily risen and wholly divine Lord Jesus Christ you believe, if you believe, since all the rest is mere terminological confusion, not redemption by God's Son.
Born all over again spiritually,
forgiven all sins,
redeemed and founded thus as an eternal member of Christ's kingdom:
on Christ's return, each such person will be resurrected.
That is a Christian.
Peter's words remain very much to the point: Acts 2:38-39,1 Peter 1:1-9.
Are you a Christian ? This issue needs resolving more than any other.
We spoke of receiving the scriptural report, record of Jesus Christ. The mental 'creation' of some Christ is not the same as regeneration by the Lord Jesus Christ! It resembles forging a signature on a cheque.
It is then nearly time to turn to the topic of the Trinity, in which the identity of Jesus Christ is focussed, just as He focussed the identity of the Father. That will be our theme in Section 4, on the Trinity. First, however, we make a distinction which is important because it has been a rich and resourceful source of confusion, through the deceitful wiles of the devil.
* The written word,
being of God, naturally forbids that there should be addition (Proverbs
30:6), amendment (II Corinthians 4:2) or muzzling (I John 2:27, 3:9, 5:1,13,
Mark 7:7,13, Luke 11:52, Galatians 1, II Corinthians 11). On the other
hand, when you in fact believe in Him, you qualify for all
the promises to the believer.
While Paul makes it crystal clear that
justification is done, finished and completed (*2),
apart from works indeed (Romans 3:28), so that having been justified,
we have peace with God (Romans 5:1, 5:9, Titus 3:7), James states that
we are justified by works ... or does
Actually, James is asking bogus 'Christians' to justify any claim to faith by their works. That is not what justifies them; it is what would give grounds for conceiving that they were justified. It would give some justification for their claim that they are justified: just as Christ was 'justified' in His own divine claims - (I Timothy 3:16).
Now giving justification for a claim is not the same as having a claim to justify, based in reality. Showing you are a millionaire is not the same as being one. You might deceive others or even yourself, for example if you were a high living entrepreneur. Indeed, the furore about some once wealthy Australian entrepreneurs concerns just this. They do not look as if they were bankrupt; so are they still (secretly) rich ?
It is all a simple question of the reality and the appearance. The reality is a matter of what is actually lodged in your accounts, positively or in terms of debt, and further, that to which these lodgments refer, in terms of property, shares in company proceeds and so on. The appearance is this or that property or account, without regard to what you owe; or criminal pretence, or misconstructed 'books'.
James says show you are rich by the riches of your deeds. "Faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). That is the crux of it.
A living (and thus real) faith works, shows its actuality by its functionality. A dead faith is not a living thing, is ersatz, pretence, nominality, fraud, bogus. Very well, but that has nothing to do with how you are justified by God. He gives you forgiveness on the basis that Paul so clearly presents, as does Jesus Christ, whose 'good' trees do not achieve that status from their fruit, but from their being duly planted and proper trees in the Lord. Fruit merely evidences this: but the prior step ? It is entering the door (John 10:9), it is drinking the water (John 4:14) because of which, if one does it, one will never thirst again, and so on. It is to believe, confess (Romans 10:9), to eat the bread that makes it the case that one lives for ever. The tense of the verb, when aorist as in the above cases, shows the fact that this is a happening (John 6:49-53); as does the fact that if one does this, so drinks, one will not thirst, ever again; or as John 5:24 puts it, not come into condemnation. Now all this is expressed at length elsewhere in this work: here we merely renew the mind to the point.
If then you do have faith; it will show. That is all. So hard ? So confusing. You are justified by grace through faith, and the whole thing is not of works, it is the gift of God; you are justified apart from works, as Paul puts it in Romans 3:28 (*1); but any claim to be so justified is exhibited in a favourable light, is given some apparent credibility by what you do. Neither one's fruits nor fellows1 create faith: one believes!
If you claim to have a car, we might expect to find you meeting needs of transport from time to time, by using it... That is all. "I," says James, "will show you my faith by my works" - James 2:18. Of course: one cannot peer within (God can); but an outward expression, while not an infallible sign (because of cunning hypocrisy, for example, as denounced by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24), is an indubitable result. Given discernment, you should be able to detect false teachers (Matthew 7:15-16). But all scripture is to be taken concurrently, and while doctrine astray is detectable: as to a man's real faith or not, you are not the judge! That is equally emphatic and comes from just the same lips, and with perfect consistency; indeed, it starts the very chapter in which, without judging, you are advised to check out false prophets, and not be gullible (Matthew 7:1 ff.).
As for your faith, it is God who knows (Jeremiah 17:9-10) whether you received Him (John 1:1-14). Workless faith is fiasco; but false works are beguiling, as the same chapter again shows us (Matthew 7:21-23). Works are no substitute for authenticity; but their absence is a lesson in lostness!
Then He states that good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bad fruit. That is the second proposition.
Thirdly, He states that bad trees are cut down and propounds the general principle: by their fruits you will know them.
Fruits are impossible for the false prophet in the area of sound doctrine. It will be shown up. Good fruits will be given by the good trees. This is their functionality and their inheritance. It comes because of what they are, and that comes from the way they are made; for trees are a creation, and a Christian is a 'new creation' (II Corinthians 5:17). You do not work up to being a good tree; you are made and then planted, and the rest follows.
Follow it does (James), but what follows is not (Paul) what plants the tree! A child could see that; but vested ecclesiastical interests are blind in this case! Did not Christ speak to the Pharisees, and did they not get quite an uncomfortable feeling that, though they were high and lifted up in the opinions of both their own hearts and of men, filled with works, yet they were being given the rating of blind by Christ! (See John 8:35-41.) That was not a very good rating, for all their works!
That is why it is so very imperative not to argue falsely, and allege that because workless faith is fiasco, therefore working parts argue genuineness. They don't: God is a Spirit and has given clear notice about trusting in works in any way, regard or respect, as we have seen at length (*2). He does not revoke that here. On the contrary, it is emphasised in Matthew Chapters 7 and 23: Christ as fraud squad on the wonders of 'my works'! The judgment is clear: 'works' are unspiritual, coming from the blind. (Cf. Proverbs 15:8.)
This judgment is in fact what they were given, with the frank avowal: "If you were blind, you would have no sin: but now you say, 'We see', therefore your sin remains" (John 9:41).
Their presumption and gratuitous assumptions that Christ could not by grace alone save the blind man, how and when He would, marked them out as meddlers, doing the final, fatal thing: "teaching for doctrine the commandment of men" (Mark 7:7). That, as Paul also shows in Galatians 1, that sort of a gospel merely damns the preacher; it does nothing for the pew.
Thus, to revert to Paul (as in Romans 3:23; Ch.6; 8:5-10): he is teaching that
your life is justified by faith; but your faith is justified by your works.If it is you who are in question: are you saved, are you pardoned, are your sins remitted, are you justified: then with the clarity of the dew of heaven on the fresh mown grass (Psalm 72), you find that it is in the finished work of the bodily risen deity, Jesus Christ that you rest, being assured (Romans 8:1 6) and sure (Romans 5:9) and uncondemnable (John 5:24, Romans 8:31 ff., John 3:18, 1 John 5:1,13, John 10:9).
If, on the other hand, it is your assessable faith which is in question: is it there ? Are there visible grounds for your conviction that it is there, in the eyes of others ? The answer is: faith works, because living. That is its nature! By its works, it distinguishes itself from what is dead. It justifies the claim to be faith by its working; and being faith, is granted salvation freely, as James also makes clear (2:22-26, 1:17-18). This is a gift, as James calls it. Every good and perfect gift comes from God above, says James, who by His own will begot us again. This is free, in James as in Paul. It is unconditional, divorced from flesh, unattainable by the best efforts of man, but givable by God. In fact, Christ prescribes what He will do, in response to the request of faith, the entry by faith. He does it; and faith is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).
So Abraham had a faith which was not still, stultified and inoperative, dysfunctional, dead, and merely nominal: no, his faith, like a sports car that runs, a boat that floats, did what it was good at. It believed. Hence it got results. This shows to eyes that can see, and that can look. His faith was shown to be such by its operational manifestness; and being thus shown to be faith, it was a faith which justified.
No bogus faith can do that. No works can justify the person. But faith - properly so-called - justifies the person; and works, allied to, expressive of, the lively correlate of faith: these are a result of the faith which is there, if indeed it is there; for the spiritual nature of the works is often not known to others, with the left-hand not knowing what the right hand does; and if it were 'seen', yet it is readily misconstrued, as shown by the disappointed good-works rejects, noted by Christ in Matthew 7:22-23. Good works simply show that faith is fruitful (James 2:26, 1:17-18).
James would show his faith by his works, because he knew he had faith. Works attest faith; but for man, they do not determine. It depends what sort of works (spiritually), they really are. You can show your works; but only God will know your works. Yet false prophets are readily distinguished, being incapable of truth ... though sometimes making excellent paper-flower substitutes for the real thing. You however can know that you have acted thus and so in faith. You do not learn of faith in this way, but by receiving Christ (John 6:53-54, 4:14, 10:9); yet you do see it in action. Take Abraham for example.
In Abraham's case (*2), the very nature of the episode noted in James 2, exhibited on the one hand, faith, and so had its reward, reality. Now if Abraham had not had faith, then he could not have offered up Isaac ; thus Hebrews 11:17 tells us that it was by faith that he was prepared to do this. Believing, like anything else that is real, does what its function is, over time. This does not make it what it is - you do not make a knife by cutting for example: this exhibits what it is. A blind person might not see what it does; but it does it.
That, finally, is the danger of judging. You may be blind to the hidden works of a person and hence judge unjustly; or you may in envy misconstrue them, and so on. But they are there, and it is God and not man who is the judge (1 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5). It is a small thing for me to be judged by you, says Paul, and again, Judge nothing before the time.
Nevertheless those false prophets noted by Christ, these are evidenced by their false doctrine. This however gives no one liberty to play God subjectivistically, or any other way! becoming judge and jury with Christians, to assign judgment "before the time"! No one, not even a church has this power (although as noted, flat contradictions of required teaching are observations, not judgments - the false prophet case). That is why it should not be done; and cannot be done: it is forbidden, and that by Christ. If only this were better realised, how changed would false churches and assemblies and men, become. Their 'nukes' would be muted... the nuclear waste would also dissipate with the disarmament of the nuclear works of dissatisfied, judgmental... flesh. (Cf. James 2:3-18!)
Thus it is you being justified by faith, apart from works (Romans 3:23-28, 4:3-6,16-18,24), by grace that leads to your salvation; and you, being alive, live, not perfectly, but effectually as a Christian, believing.
Faith now ? James
recommends the authentic article: it works; and Paul tells
you what that authentic article does: it justifies the one who has it,
Now the cause was this: Luther had discovered the marvellous doctrine so abundantly clearly taught in Paul, but so largely suppressed for some time in the contemporary Roman body; which, indeed, in the doctrine of indulgences and the mode of raising money for Rome, and the Church there, was in small apparent 'need' of this doctrine. As Luther said: If the pope has power to deliver souls from purgatory for money, why not at once deliver all of them for nothing, out of love...
Now Paul in Romans Chapters 10-11 and 3-4 (especially 11:6, 10:3, 3:21,27-28, 4:4,6,16) does make the doctrine of salvation by faith through grace so abundantly clear... even noting (cf. Romans 4:2,16, Ephesians 2:8-9) that if it be of works then it is no more of faith, but that now it is by faith of grace, that no man might boast... that it would be quite impossible to take what he writes as it is, and avoid it. In Romans 11, he is even dealing with election, the whole destiny of the life, and it is this which is by grace in entire contradistinction to, and contradiction of works! In Romans 4, he says: "Now to him who works is the reward not reckoned of grace but of debt. But to him who works not" (he does not say, works not meritoriously, or works not adequately, but works not), "but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness". As far as Paul is concerned, the matter is clear and contradistinct: the works principle is anathema, to use a well-known ecclesiastical term... it is appalling and disastrous (Galatians 3:1 ff., Romans chapters 3, 4, 9-11), when it is introduced in the context of what is secured for you by faith. This we have seen in some detail (*3) above, and it is well summed in Ephesians 2:8. What faith gains for a man, what a man gains by faith without works, is clear.
Now James is not at all discussing this theme. It is far from his topic. He is involved, considering real and bogus faith; authenticity and fraudulence in claims to have faith, on the part of diverse principle. Shall we not read: "Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." ('Show'! This teaches that the witness of deeds may justify the belief that faith is at work - James 2:19-26: a faith that by God's law, justifies, as Paul teaches on his theme, entirely without works - cf. James 1:17-18.) Authentic faith embraces grace and receives, of course, righteousness freely: it is ''accounted''.
To revert to the thematic preoccupation of James: this intolerance of the bogus is clear in the Scriptures throughout, and none more rigorously exposed it than Jesus. It is hardly surprising to find it here in James ... "Faith without works is dead," James proclaims; and so of course it is. It is so of anything which does not produce, is not alive, in the long run; it is indistinguishable from death; and when that thing is a life, the point is especially clear.
So what have we ? Anything of extraordinary depth, inconceivable challenge within the wide domain of Scripture ? Not really; but we do have doctrines of immense significance. Just as thieves like to rob riches, so the devil loves to confuse clarity, and rob people of the riches of Christ.
Thus James is showing what a man does with his faith (if indeed it be faith): and Paul is showing what faith does for a man. One shows the impact of faith for a man; the other shows the outworking of faith for a man... its verificatory, validatory virtue, and its operative effectuality in any area. Paul is teaching that you are saved by faith without works; both are stressing - but you are not saved without faith; and James is stressing - and faith works.
One is talking about planting; the other is speaking of products. One says, Don't try to plant a tree by means of fruit; the other is stressing, Don't call a tree good if it does not bear fruit. It is duet of perfect harmony*; and neither clashes with the other, when each is taken in the setting of theme. Shall a man contradict God? What then?
Thus: you are saved without works, but not without faith; and faith works.
Here there is no obscurity. Paul is setting the saving object of faith beyond all interference, beyond any addition in person or works; from God for man, Christ is inviolate, appropriable without our admixture. James sets the outcome of faith beyond all parley or pretence, setting it in the field of the actual, functional, so that a good tree is exclusive of actual fruitlessness. The tree is however neither created by its fruit, nor made good by its fruit!
"Having been justified therefore by faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord Jesus Christ"... and so it is.
This verse, Romans 5:1 impacted especially on Luther; and we may indeed allow that in one respect the statement that to understand justification by faith is hard, is justified; for to know this, you need to know God. However, though spiritually it involves something that is hard ... the Cross; yet intellectually it is simple.
In these dealings between God and man,
as with Abraham, as with Paul, there is room for no man. As Jesus said:
Call no man on earth Master... no man Father . As John has it: "the
anointing that you have received abides in you, and you do not need that
anyone teach you." No man but Jesus has access here, if man is to have
access thus to God. No system can replace, no church can brazen, no analysis
can create it. A man is born from above, and needs here no teaching; merely
reception of the work of God's inexpressible gift.
This requirement that a man have faith in God, it need not boggle the mind, though it may rack the soul. It is Christ alone who makes His servant stand or fall. He says: "He who hears my word and believes on him who sent me has eternal life, shall not come into condemnation, and has passed from death into life" - John 5:24.
Let us look again. In what is a man said to 'have been justified' ? Why in this, that "Blessed is the man to whom the lord will not impute sin" - Romans 4:5-8. But what of those justified ? Paul states, unlike Luther's assailants, that these shall be glorified (Romans 8:30,17, 8:38, Galatians 4:1-7).
What then ? Why such fuss in history about it ? Perhaps, apart from the intense significance of these points, and the natural tendency of men in the flesh to want to dominate men or avoid God - which Paul's doctrine precludes spiritually - there is the matter of terminology. Both James and Paul talk of justification. James is speaking of being justified relative to authentic faith (the question at issue in his letter); and in this context he demands works to evince the plausibility of the claim to have such authentic faith. Paul on the other hand is talking of the grounds for being justified relative to divine imputation of righteousness as a gift not only free, but by grace (Romans 5:15), "apart from works" (Romans 4:6); whereby the man is justified relative to the charges of sin, which for Christ's sake are thus no more pressed (cf. Hebrews 8:10,12, and 10:10-14).
Paul is (of course) right; Luther is
right about Paul; the insistence on living works of a living faith is (of
course) right. Luther is wrong in calling James' epistle an epistle of
straw, evidently on the mistaken view that James is harassing the doctrines
of Paul. On the contrary what James there says is not even relevant to
the immediate topic of Paul, thematically. The Counter-Reformation view
of works relative to salvation is apostolically wrong; for it takes James
out of context and flatly contradicts Paul (*4): just as Luther made a
flat contradiction of James: Not of the apostle's teaching,
which he misunderstood; but in his own pronouncement about James as a book.
* Matthew 4:4 provides
the most felicitous partnership with Proverbs 8:8.
*2. Was Abraham's faith true ? It was true from the beginning for God says so from the beginning (Genesis 15:6). It went on to provide a type of Christ, the father yielding the son (Genesis 22:12), 'not withholding him'. Thus it was later attested - ''fulfilled'' (James 2:17,22-23) - by its distinctive act (Genesis 22:12), Abraham by it having demonstrated faith: all vindicated, validated, authenticated. Such faith saves. Non-bogus, it had statedly attained at the first its object - God's unspeakable and formally covenanted free gift (Genesis 15:6,13-18, Romans 3:2-5:10, James 1:17). It gained it at once and for ever, obtaining its goal (Galatians 2:16, 3:1-9,25,29, 4:4-7, 6:13-15), later evincing its nature. Abraham, first freely justified, is then justified in his role as believer.
*3. See index on that topic, including points O, P, Q and R supra, on pp. 490-498. Topics of kind, creation and life have already caused us to fly over much of this territory, from a different starting point. What follows will deal more specifically with some elements, and more pointedly, being express for the purpose.
*4. Paul makes justification a fact complete (Romans 5:1,8; 4:4), Trent (Ch.'s 8-10, Session 6, I547) makes it progressive. For the Council of Trent, a man cannot know he has this justification thus present; but to Paul, he naturally should know (Romans 8:16,32 - cf. I John 5:13; *9a, p. 1087 infra). To Trent, it is aided by works, but to Paul it is apart from works (Romans 4:4, 3:24,26-28). As noted, Paul is not saying, to him who works not meritoriously or works not adequately, his faith is counted for righteousness; but "to him who works not". In this sense, Luther is saying we must be willing to take 'no' for an answer!
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1. Cf. Job 19:21-28, II Corinthians 4:13, Hebrews 11:1,6. Deferred 'faith' is fruitless fiasco.
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