Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Paul versus James: Justification and Works...

I have been reading a very edifying and helpful book by Ashley Null, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the theological thought process Thomas Cranmer went through as he sought to bring the Church of England into a reformed and Scriptural faith and practice.

In an earlier post I wrote concerning the relationship of our justification by faith in Christ to our works of sanctification. Do our works play any meritorious role in our justification? Some would say yes. Certainly this is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. Others such as N.T. Wright and those of the Federal Vision persuasion likewise blur the necessary distinctions between the two. Indeed, many in the Evangelical/Protestant stream who hold to justification by faith alone can still struggle with the distinctions that are made regarding justification and works of sanctification, especially when Paul of Romans 3-5 meets James in chapter two of his epistle. It is on this question that I find what Ashley Null writes concerning Cranmer's explanation to be most helpful. Let me quote from the section entitled, Cranmer's 'Notes on Justification':

... Cranmer's fifth proposition addressed the common objection to claiming ancient authority for justification by faith, the relationship between James and Paul: 'St. James meant of justification in another sense, when he said, "A man is justified by works, and not by faith only". For he spake of such a justification which is a declaration, continuation, and increase of that justification which St. Paul spake of before.' Without any specific definition of justification as either forensic or intrinsic in 'Notes', this phrase could be construed as implying factitive righteousness. However, as in his great notebooks, Cranmer merely meant that good works which followed justification served as a testimony to that justification and an indication of the increasing inner rectitude against the infirmity of the flesh. Underneath this proposition, Cranmer recorded quotations which illustrated this point. Abraham was justified by his works in the sense that they demonstrated his faith. Paul excluded human works prior to justification, whereas James excluded the possibility that those so justified did not have to do good deeds. Finally, although good works augmented justification, they did not do so in the sense of increasing personal righteousness. Rather, good works strengthened the source of a believer's righteousness through Christ, his faith. Cranmer's reconciliation between Paul and James was consistent with Protestant thought.

This is the thrust of Paul's answer to those who claim that justification by faith apart from works is an excuse to sin even more and excludes the necessity of good works in those justified! Paul responds in part in chapter six of Romans:

11 Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof:
13 neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The Christian message often produces in its hearers what could be termed a cognitive dissonance. It is replete with markers that are counter-intuitive to the normal human way of thinking and living e.g. love your enemy, turn the other cheek, forgive your brother seventy times seven...

The Psalmist writes,
But for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. - Ps. 44:22, Rom. 8:36

Jesus states in the Gospels,
"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?" - Luke 9:24

Paul writes,
And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. - 2 Corinthians 12:9

J.C. Ryle, the 19th century Anglican minister writes:
Affliction is one of God’s medicines. By it He often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it He often draws souls away from sin and the world, which would otherwise have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater. Prosperity and worldly comfort, are what all naturally desire; but losses and crosses are far better for us, if they lead us to Christ. Thousands at the last day, will testify with David, and the nobleman before us, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” (Psalm. 119:71.)

And the writer in Hebrews:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

As we suffer the loss of things esteemed by the world, leaning on Him by His grace we find that for which we were created and redeemed.

Losing what was never mine
Spectral idols tempting me
Fruitless paths and ravaged time
Companions in my misery

Fading hopes refuse decline
Distracted thoughts mocking me
Circle now this body find
A dying dream not to be

Yet ‘neath these ruins’ wasted climb
The quiet recall in memory
Reasserts the truth sublime
Through loss, life found eternally

-August 2008, Jack Miller

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Faith Alone? What about our works?

An email conversation with a friend has caused me to think extend my remarks begun in this post and this post.

To quote Luther:
So, too, faith comes only through the word of God, the Gospel, that preaches Christ: how he is both Son of God and man, how he died and rose for our sake. Paul says all this in chapters 3, 4 and 10.
That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law; faith it is that brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ. The Spirit, in turn, renders the heart glad and free, as the law demands. Then good works proceed from faith itself. That is what Paul means in chapter 3 when, after he has thrown out the works of the law, he sounds as though the wants to abolish the law by faith. No, he says, we uphold the law through faith, i.e. we fulfill it through faith.

And below, an interesting item from the Roman Catholic Pope Benedict. I don't think he is adopting the reformed doctrine of sola fide, but it is hard to escape the Apostle Paul's teaching in his clear words on salvation which is of faith in Christ alone and not of works, especially as found in Romans and Galatians. The Pope quotes an unlikely source:

Pope Benedict: "And to the Christians of Rome he [Paul] reasserts that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rm 3: 23-24). And he adds "we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (v. 28). At this point Luther translated: "justified by faith alone". I shall return to this point..."
"Further observances are no longer necessary. For this reason Luther's phrase: "faith alone" is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love. Faith is looking at Christ, entrusting oneself to Christ, being united to Christ, conformed to Christ, to his life."
from his General Audience of Nov. 19, 2008.

Me: a true and lively faith in Christ alone for our forgiveness and justification will show forth the fruit of good works born of thankfulness and charity... never perfect yet always acceptable by His grace.

and from another source:

Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us ...

It is quite telling though how quickly as believers we want to immediately move on to law after hearing this good news.

"Yeah but don't we need to obey? We do need to do good works, you know! We can't just have faith!!"

As Michael Horton has pointed out, humans identify with law and works. It is our default position. Faith and trust in Christ alone, i.e. dependence on what Christ has done through the cross, is counter-intuitive and itself a gift of grace. Paul in Rom. 3:21, after showing how all are shut up in sin under the law, introduces the good news of justification by faith with the exclamation "But now!". We hear that good news and too often instinctively ask,"Yeah, but what do I need to do?" It's as if God has only started our justification through faith in Christ and now, in order to complete it and maintain it, we need to make sure we're holding up our end of the bargain.

There are good works. But they necessarily proceed from our justification in Christ. Trusting in Christ alone for one's salvation results in a new heart (a work of the Holy Spirit) that is now alive to God and inclined toward obedience. Thus works flow from faith and thankfulness in light of his wondrous gift of forgiveness and justification. But these works (being yet imperfect) are never, partially or whole, the basis of our right standing before God. That righteous standing is secured solely on the basis of Christ's death and resurrection. So to say "by faith alone" is to say "by faith in Christ's finished work of the cross alone", i.e. being declared righteous before God because of his perfect sacrifice for our sins and his perfect obedience on our behalf for our justification. Our motive then for obedience to him is one of thankfulness, not need or fear. Paul sums up at the end of Romans chapter 3:27-31,

"Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law."

Faith in Christ alone never obviates good works. Faith alone speaks of what (and Whom) the Christian depends on for his acceptance before God, for his redemption from the curse, and for 'the' - though I was lost, now I am found!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Justification and Obedience

Some further thoughts of mine on justification by faith and its relationhip to obedience in Christ...

As sinners fully pardoned by God, we are nonetheless mindful of the woeful lack of any merit on our part before Him; yet ever thankful to Christ our Savior for taking upon Himself the penalty of our sin and in exchange imputing to us the merit of His perfect obedience.

Thus justified by faith in Him, we have the assurance of God’s gracious gift of unearned salvation, made effectual by the Holy Spirit who enlivens in us a true obedience (though imperfect) from a renewed heart; an obedience born not of fear or apprehension but of thankfulness and love for God.

... and a poem I wrote a couple days ago:

[inspired by Romans 3:21-31]

The blood of Christ

It covers me

The blood of Christ

He died for me

My sin taken

His life given

No condemnation

He has risen

Declared now just

No merit mine

By grace now blessed

Free gift I find

A new heart given

Faith to obey

His yoke easy

Christ led each day

God of heaven

Savior He

This soul, blood-sealed

- March 4, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Reflections on Justification

I've been teaching a study on the book of Romans and I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the heart of the gospel.

Believers, though still sinners, are amazingly declared righteous by God; a justification secured and maintained by His grace through faith in Christ alone, apart from any merit or works of our own. This imputation of righteousness is the very ground upon which we securely stand as redeemed of God and from which we, with new right-willed hearts born of the Holy Spirit, are inclined away from sin and towards true obedience of His commands, though imperfectly in this life. This justification by faith apart from works was under attack not only in the Apostle Paul's day but in Augustine's day as well. It was the central issue of the Reformation. And today, it is by and large ignored in the Church as many substitute the "by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone" for some variation of Christ plus "moral-works" or Christ plus "inward experiential-works." As in Hebrews 4:10, For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his, we who rest from our merit-base works find much benefit of comfort in this wholesome doctrine of justification by faith.

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works...
-Romans 4:4-6

I think the Devil can abide many things in God's Church, but certainly not believers apprehending that for which they were apprehended, as Paul sets forth.

The necessity for believers to be taught and to learn what the gospel of God's salvation is and means cannot be over stated. As Luther wrote, we need to have it daily hammered into us. All of Scripture points to and reveals this good news of God's redemption of sinners in Christ Jesus. Therefore, mining the riches of the gospel - that faith once delivered, proclaimed through God's word in His Church, and as expressed in the Creeds and various Reformed confessions - is central to knowing and following Christ.

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Collect 2nd Sunday of Advent, 1928 BCP)

This good news of the Divine transaction of the cross in which Christ takes the penalty of our disobedience upon Himself and imputes to us the merit of His perfect obedience cuts against the grain of our self-regard. As Paul writes:

To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
-Romans 3:26-27

It is counter-intuitive to our fallen ego-centric nature. Man instinctively looks to his deeds and his intentions for self-justification and evidence of self-merit. That is why I especially appreciate Thomas Cranmer's focus on Christ's merit and not on ours, as found in various places in the 1928 Book Of Common Prayer:

- For the precious death and merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord...

- by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood...

- not weighing our merits...

- We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy...

- by the merits of his most precious death and passion..

This is so adequately summed up in The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion - Article XI. Of the Justification of Man.

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

For my part - hearing, reading, marking, learning, and digesting the gospel proclaimed in Scripture is part and parcel with embracing and ever holding fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Senator Jim Bunning's Seminar on Deficit Spending...

This old Saturday Night Live skit really captures the heart of the issue between the Senate "spenders" and Jim Bunning's simple point that spending legislation should be funded, i.e. paid for (not to mention it's funny)...