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.

No comments:

Post a Comment