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Bible verses about Justification by Works
(From Forerunner Commentary)

John 5:28-29

Teachers who say that works are unimportant are spreading lies—by confusing the issues, by blunting the incentive to keep the commandments of God and to make the right kind of choices, by making people think that they do not have to do any works. Understand, however, that works are not required to save us but to ensure that we are changed!

What does God want to see when we come before the judgment bar, as we are now during our Christian lives? He wants to see evidence to prove that we are indeed His children. His judgment is based upon what we have done; the Bible says repeatedly that judgment is according to our works.

I am not qualifying here the quantity or the quality of our works. God is so merciful! Paul tells us in I Corinthians 3:15 that, even though our works are burned up, we ourselves will be saved. Even though the works are of poor quality, at least we have worked! We did not just sit there, dead in the water. We apparently pleased God enough to show that we wanted to be in His Kingdom.

That judgment is in His hands. But we should recognize that He does require works. The works are not for justification but for sanctification. The works aid in the transformation of our character to the image of God. The works aid in our growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. The works help to produce change. It is a cooperative effort that we do with God.

And I can guarantee you that, if a person does not make the efforts to change, he would be totally unhappy in the Kingdom of God. He would be like a fish out of water, because everybody in that Kingdom is going to be holy. Everybody in that Kingdom is going to do—they are going to live holy lives. (He wouldn't fit, and so he won't be there.)

Satan is trying to destroy God's purpose by subtly confusing the necessity of good works, and therefore stopping the process of sanctification through a perverted teaching on grace, law, and covenants. But remember this: Hebrews 12:14 tells us that without holinessa holiness that we have to strive for—"no man shall see the Lord."

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 9)


 

Acts 21:21

The speaker is James, our Savior's brother. "They" is the Jews, and "you" is the apostle Paul.

Verse 25 is a quotation taken from the conference in Acts 15, and the subject, according to verse 21, is the customs. The controversy did not involve the civil laws or the Ten Commandments. Instead, it involved the ceremonial additions, as is clearly shown in context by what Paul did.

The context shows what these customs were. Paul made the offerings required at the conclusion of a vow. It is clear that the passage is speaking about the ceremonies. It is also entirely possible that the controversy over these customs also involved the oral traditions of the Pharisees, which they were so devoted to.

There is no evidence that Paul ever taught any Jew to forsake Moses. To do so, he would have to preach against God. There is no evidence that Paul ever told them, "Do not circumcise your children." He certainly preached that keeping the law could not justify a person before God. His writings clearly state that we are justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8).

Plainly, Paul's own actions in Acts 21 testify that, though salvation or justification could not be won through keeping these things, keeping them was not destructive unless one depended upon them for justification or salvation. In addition, there was no hesitation on Paul's part to do them. Scripture gives no indication that he argued with James; in fact, we see a unity of mind between them. There is no indication of reluctance either, that somehow it would destroy Paul's faith in Jesus Christ, or that it would compromise him in the eyes of any Christian, Jew or Gentile, who might witness it.

This teaches that first-century Christians understood this issue. They clearly understood what we seem to have such a difficult time understanding nineteen centuries later. Nothing this God of love that we worship requires of us is bad for us. Sometimes what He requires may be difficult to bear, but it is not destructive to His purpose or thoughtless in any way. It is always intended to strengthen us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)


 

Romans 2:12-13

We cannot be justified before God except through faith in the sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and then God gives us grace. This does not excuse us from keeping the law because He says those who keep the law will be justified; therefore, keeping the law cannot justify. It cannot save a person, but those who keep the law will be justified and saved—not because they are keeping the law in order to be saved but because they are faithful in showing God that they are preparing their lives for His Kingdom, where everybody will live the same godly life, according to the same rules. That is what God's law outlines—His way of life.

This section, up to verse 16, shows that both those with a formal ignorance of God's law (say, the Gentiles) and those with knowledge of the law (in this case, the Jews, or in our context now, Christians) will be judged by the law. Why? Because the law defines sin! Sin brings God's judgment.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace and Law (Part 16)


 

Romans 2:13

Lawkeeping alone will not justify them, but God expects that someone who has faith in Christ to keep His law. Therefore it is good to do it because works are evidence of what one has faith in. Without works, God would never be sure.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 25)


 

Romans 4:13-16

God justifies us. He does it freely. One of His purposes for doing so is that the promises may be sure.

The Jews have a saying, "How can a man enter into a right relationship with God so that he, too, may inherit the promises?" They understood the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. They wanted to be able to participate in it, so they posed this question. Their answer: "He must do so by acquiring merit in the sight of God through doing good works, which the law prescribes." That is to say, by one's own effort.

However, as Paul describes here, justification through works, if it were even possible, would destroy the promises of God because no man can keep the law fully! If nobody can keep the law, because the giving of the promises depends on keeping the law, then God cannot give the promises. No one would ever qualify.

So God, wanting to ensure that the promises are given, justifies a person of His own free will. He blesses us, so that we can qualify to receive the promises on the basis of His grace. We had better be glad He does it this way, or we could never be co-inheritors of what Abraham is promised.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace


 

Romans 4:15

If we take to its logical conclusion the statement that "justification by grace through faith does away with law," then there is no such thing as sin any longer, for the law defines what sin is (see also I John 3:4). If that is true, Christ died in vain.

In addition, it violently flies in the face of two clear facts: 1) Two thousand years after Christ shed His blood to pay the penalty for sin—providing the means for justification—we still must repent of sin to be forgiven. That has not changed, so sin must still exist and law still exists. Thus, the Ten Commandments still exist, as sin is the transgression of that law. How can this be if there is no law to transgress? 2) The New Testament record of Jesus Christ's and the apostles' exhortations to Christians not to sin, especially after one is forgiven.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 4)


 

Romans 5:8-10

Notice two things in these verses, the second one first. In verse 10, Paul states, "We shall be saved by His life." As wonderful a gift as God's merciful forgiveness is, merely being forgiven through Christ's blood is not sufficient for salvation. Justification must be seen for what it truly is: It is essential, but it is only the beginning of the salvation process. Throughout the process, we are saved by the continuous flow of grace upon grace from our High Priest.

The other important point is that perhaps nothing regarding God's spiritual creation demonstrates God's gracious and generous freeness—His total lack of obligation toward us—as does His justifying of sinners rather than morally meritorious saints.

The Christian doctrine of God justifying by faith rather than by works truly set the religious Jews of the apostle's day on an angry edge. To them, it made no logical sense. They perceived it as simply another invitation to sin because it seems so easy, or perhaps they also saw it as God ignoring their sincere efforts to please Him.

This charge is true—if one perceives justification carnally, isolating it so that it appears to occur completely apart from God's entire purpose for salvation rather than seeing it for what it truly is. Justification by grace through faith is a necessary part of the whole of being created in Christ's image.

Why is it necessary that our justification be by grace through faith? It must be this way because, if we earn justification through our works, it opens the door for human pride, not just to enter our relationship with God, but perhaps even to drive the relationship. If one is justified by works, a person could then honestly claim that God chose him, and his works, because he was good.

This is not good because pride is such a strong influence against God. Remember, Satan's pride rising in him initiated this entire earthly mess. Consider carefully what his pride did to his relationship with God. Justification given because of works alters the positions within the relationship, making God obligated to us as if we had earned a relationship with Him. Pride attempts to put a person on an equal footing with God or even in charge of the relationship, and this ultimately results in us creating ourselves.

It is dangerous to unleash pride in thinking more of ourselves than what is truly good for our character development. We are not the creator but the creation, subject to the designs and purposes of the Master Creator. For our good, then, justification must be received as a freely given, unearned gift.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace (Part Two)


 

Romans 10:3

Paul records that the carnal Israelites established their own righteousness, because they decided what laws they would keep and how, instead of following God's definition of righteousness. They thought this kind of righteousness—really self-righteousness—would force God to give them salvation. These works, though, are vain, self-serving, and faithless.

Staff
Works of Faith (Part 1)


 

Galatians 1:6-7

The major thrust of the Galatian epistle is to put them "back on the track" because someone had been teaching "a different gospel," a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). The Galatians had derailed on their understanding of how sinners are justified. To be justified means to have one's sins forgiven and to be brought into a right relationship with God. False teachers in Galatia taught that one was justified by doing physical works of some kind. In dealing with this matter, Paul felt an urgency to emphasize that we are justified by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:15-16)

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Does Paul Condemn Observing God's Holy Days?


 

Galatians 2:16

A much better translation that catches the essence of what Paul says is, ". . . a man is not justified through works of the law except through faith in Jesus Christ," or "but by means of faith in Jesus Christ." Paul is saying that works are of value when joined with faith in Jesus Christ, clearly showing that when works are combined with faith, they have positive value.

Since righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ, in reality it comes by the faith of Jesus Christ because it is His righteousness that is imputed to us for the purpose of justification. He achieved that righteousness by perfect lawkeeping through His faith in God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 26)


 

Galatians 2:17-21

Justification is clearly an act of God's grace, because what we deserve from what we have earned—from what we have done, the conduct of our lives—is death. There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1). Since justification, then, cannot be claimed as a right because we have sinned, it must be received as a gift. That fact that it is given makes it an act of grace.

It is not our hanging on to Christ (that is, the keeping of the law) that saves us, but rather Christ hanging on to us. That is, it is not what we do, but it is what He does continuously as acts of grace that saves us, because we deserve death. If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, Paul is saying in verse 21, "then Christ died in vain." If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, then Christ's sinless life and agonizing death were not necessary, because we can do it ourselves.

Justification is not vindication or exoneration. Both of those words connote that a person was right all along, but the true facts were hidden from those who were doing the judging. In some cases with men, vindication is possible because people are judged unrighteously. Their judges are not using righteous judgment.

But God never judges unrighteously! He knows all the facts. He knows our heart. He knows everything about us in every situation that we have ever been in, so He cannot vindicate us because we are not clear of guilt. He cannot exonerate us because we are not innocent. Justification is more than that. It is setting us right or calling us righteous though righteousness does not exist in us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace


 

Galatians 3:5-11

Paul approaches the faith and works question from yet another angle. This time, he uses Abraham as the model by which all his "children in the faith" also become "children of God." He begins by posing a question, which can be paraphrased as, "Do miracles come by ritual?" There is in this a veiled illusion to magic. Do miracles come by incantation? Do they come by knowing certain formulas that may include even such things as cutting the flesh or going through long periods of fasting or sufferings to get God's attention? Will God respond with a miracle out of pity once we show Him how humble and righteous we are? No, it does not work that way. Miracles come by a living God, who is actively working in our lives because He called us and we have faith in Him.

With that foundation, Paul begins what turns into the preamble for a very controversial section of Galatians. He proceeds to state that it was through faith that Abraham was justified. It is good to remember that Abraham not only believed who God is, but he also believed what God said. This is what set him apart from everybody else. His faith was not merely an intellectual agreement, but he also lived His faith.

Abraham's works did not win him acceptance by God, but they did prove to God that Abraham really did believe Him. So Paul says in verses 10-11 that those who rely on their works to justify them are under the curse of the law. What is "the curse of the law"? The death penalty! When one sins, he brings on himself the curse of the law he broke, which is death. In effect, he says that those who seek justifcation through works are still under the curse because justification by this means is impossible.

So powerful is the curse of the law that, when our sins were laid on the sinless Jesus Christ, the law claimed its due. Jesus died! Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 to counteract those who were troubling the church, because they were saying that their asceticism, magic, and similar things (like keeping Halakah, the oral law and traditions of Judaism) could justify.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 26)


 

Galatians 3:6

In God's mind, true faith or living faith is virtually synonymous with obedience and works. Faith and obedience are interchangeable, even though they are not specifically the same thing. This is just like the Bible's usage of mind, heart, and spirit—they are not specifically the same thing, yet they are so interconnected that they really cannot be separated.

This verse is a quotation of Genesis 15:6. There is a parallel quotation in Romans 4:1-3:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

This verse in essence says that Abraham was justified because he believed. He was legally righteous before God because of his faith. This becomes the basis for Paul's teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. What Paul does not mention here is that Abraham's justification (Genesis 15:6) occurred 14 years before Abraham was circumcised. Paul's conclusion is that, based on Genesis 15:6, Abraham was justified by faith. The "work" of circumcision did not come for another 14 years! The circumcision did not justify him—the faith did. See the notes at Galatians 2:16.

Paul explains further in verses 21-25:

And being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Paul shows that we are also justified (cleared of guilt, have our sins wiped away) by belief in the blood of Jesus Christ. What God did for Abraham, He will also do for us. Paul's conclusion then is that justification is by faith.

But like Galatians 2:16, this seemingly sets up a paradox, because faith does not stand alone:

But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 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 2:20-24)

Paul also points out that there is more to the equation of justification than just faith in Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."

These last two scriptures show that living faith cannot be separated from obedience—from works. Faith and works go together; where there is living faith, there will always be good works. If no works are produced, there is no living faith. What we truly and deeply believe will determine the actions we take in our lives. If we truly believe something, our "works"—what we do in our lives—will always point to that. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7)—a man lives and acts according to what his core is.

As discussed previously (Galatians 2:16), these verses are in fact complementary, not contradictory. Each of these passages has a different context and purpose, and so we do not get the whole answer from any one of them individually. James' purpose is to show that there are two kinds of faith—living and dead, genuine and professing.

James says that a person's faith is perfected or completed by the kind of works that the faith produces. He shows that it is the kind of faith that Abraham had that made the real difference and brought about justification. Justification is entirely an act on God's part, but the kind of faith that brings about justification is the same kind that also brings about good works. It is not our works that save us, but only those who are "working" in the right way will be saved because their works will be indicative of what they truly believe in. Living faith, which James talks about, cannot be separated from works.

Paul backs this up in his second letter to the Corinthian church:

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim [work; labor], whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him [our acceptance by Him after being justified is dependent on what we do!]. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)

Paul lived by faith, but he worked (labored) so that he would be acceptable to God. If he did not work, he would not have been acceptable to God even though he professed God, said he believed in Christ, had faith that He could save, etc. His works were an indicator to God of what he had faith in—what he believed.

Paul's faith was the same faith that James was talking about—a living, active faith which produces good things—good works. Dead faith is inactive (toward the things of God). It does not produce anything profitable. It is the particular kind and quality of works that separates the Christian from the world, giving evidence of what a person believes.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:10

Paul is quoting here from Deuteronomy 27:26, a principle echoed in Jeremiah 11:3.

"Of works," like "of faith" in verses 5 and 7, shows a person's origin—their source or basis of their spiritual life, and what they depend on. This follows the theme that we are justified and glorified (saved) by grace through faith, and not by our own righteousness. So Paul is saying here that those people who have their basis of spirituality in their own works and righteousness, rather than in their Creator, are under a curse.

In this verse, as with much of the rest of his letter to the Galatians, Paul is addressing the problem of justification by works—he is not condemning the law. It is evident from his other writings that Paul is not in any way anti-law (Romans 2:12-16,26; 3:31; 6:12; 7:12,22,25; 8:7; I Corinthians 7:19; I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 2:5; Titus 1:16; 2:11-14; Hebrews 1:8-9; 8:10; 10:26-29), but rather in this epistle he is endeavoring to show the place that law and works should hold in a Christian's life. He is against the misuse or abuse of law. God's law plays a vital part within the sanctification process, because it is during this time in a Christian's life that character is being built, that we are growing, overcoming, etc.—all of which require that a standard of conduct (law) be present.

James explains this further in James 2:10-12:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

This shows that our own righteousness could never suffice for the purpose of justification, because we all have sinned. But after we have been justified and entered into the New Covenant, the law is still very much valid for the purpose of sanctification. We are told in James 2:12, as in other places, that we will be judged, and the standard for that judgment will be the law of God.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:11

It is clear from the scriptures that at no time has a man been justified by his own works. Neither the Old Covenant nor the New Covenant provides a way for a man to be in alignment with God because of his own acts. It simply is not possible for a man's own righteousness to bring him into alignment with God and His law, character, etc., because every man has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The phrase "the just shall live by faith" is both a statement of fact as well as a command. Those who are justified will have eternal life—that is, they will "live"—because of their faith in God's redemptive plan. But it is also a command: If God has justified a man, it is then his responsibility to respond to that justification by living his life in faith. As James illustrates clearly, the way one lives his life is the only true indicator of what one has faith in. Again, we are neither justified nor saved by our own deeds or righteousness, but the things that we do and the rules that we live by are a beacon of what we believe in.

(See the notes at Galatians 2:16.)

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:12

If we were able to "do" the entire law—in the letter and the spirit—we could then "live" by that means. Paul shows that it does not require faith to keep the law in the letter—anybody can compare an action against a list of dos and don'ts and see if the action is allowed. It requires much more to keep the law in the spirit perfectly. It requires a full measure of God's Spirit working within the person. But simply to abide by a law does not require any faith in a Savior, so if this life were just about strictly adhering to a list of requirements in their letter, Christ would have died in vain.

Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God—that is, it will not submit itself to God's law. But there is ample evidence that unconverted man can live according to regulations in a Pharisaic manner. Romans 7:14 adds more to the equation by showing that God's law is a spiritual law—there is an intent behind it, as well as the most direct application. This was what Christ was endeavoring to show in Matthew 5:20-48. So for us to be justified before God, we would have to completely fulfill the law—live according to the letter and the spirit. But that is a logical impossibility without means of the Holy Spirit.

This is why justification by faith is a necessity: We need God's Spirit to fulfill this spiritual law, but God will not give His Spirit to someone who does not willingly submit to Him and obey Him. This is why God would not allow Adam and Eve access to the Tree of Life after they had sinned, because He knew that their natures had become corrupt, and He was not willing that a corrupt being be given His Spirit—His power. A paradox results, and the only way out of the deadlock is for God to bring a person into alignment with Him by substituting the perfect life of His Son for ours in a legal action. Once that justification has taken place, then a measure of His Spirit can be given, and the person can begin to keep His law in both the letter and the intent.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:22

The Old Testament has "included" or "enclosed" or "shut up" all of humanity under the umbrella of sin. Not a single person can appear before God on the basis of his own merit or righteousness. The totality of mankind is enslaved by sin and does not have the means to break free from its grasp. By "concluding" that everyone is under the bondage of sin, or under the curse of sin, the scripture shows that something external to mankind has to act to provide a solution that can save man from himself and his sinful nature. This "conclusion" also demonstrates that none of the paths that man has embarked on—primarily justification on the basis of one's own works—are of any lasting worth.

Because all other paths are shown to be futile, the only option for salvation and glorification is the way that Jesus Christ has set forth. There are no other alternatives. Faith in what Christ has done, is doing, and will do is mankind's only hope.

The story of the Israelites is a record of a people whom God chose, set apart, and blessed with incredible blessings and opportunities. But it is also a record of mankind's sinful nature, and how illogical it is that a man could stand before God on account of his own innate righteousness. God revealed just a portion of His will and character—the letter of the law—to Israel, and its history powerfully demonstrates that, by himself, man is unable to live up to God's standards.

This should be a glaring testimony that some other means is required for man to have a relationship with his Creator. The solution is justification—being brought into alignment with God and His law—on the basis of belief in the Savior and His perfect sacrifice. This marks the beginning of the relationship. But because faith without works is dead, the way a man lives his life demonstrates who and what he believes in. If he has been justified before God and is being saved, his life will reflect God's mercy, providence, and sovereignty. We are not justified or saved by our works, but if we are justified our works will demonstrate that we are being saved. "Belief" in Christ will be an everyday, continual reality, and true belief will shape every thought, word, and deed.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 4:4

God the Father determined when the time was right for His Son to come to earth, as man and God. Revelation 13:8 says that the Lamb (Christ) was slain "from the foundation of the world." This world, the cosmos, is the world apart from God, and that world was founded when Adam and Eve sinned. When sin entered into God's creation, given God's purpose for mankind to be made into His image, it was necessary that there be a method of reconciliation between man and God. This reconciliation was only possible through the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

Galatians 3:22 says that the scripture has concluded all under sin. The totality of mankind is enslaved by sin and does not have the means to break free from its grasp. By "concluding" that everyone is under the bondage of sin, or under the curse of sin, the scripture shows that something external to mankind has to act in order that there be a solution to save man from himself and his sinful nature. This "conclusion" also demonstrates that none of the paths which man has embarked on—primarily, justification on the basis of one's own works—are of any lasting worth.

So when the "appointed time" (Galatians 4:2) had come, the Father decided to begin releasing mankind, in part, from the grasp of those controlling him, and the means of doing this was through the redemptive work of His Son. Roughly 4,000 years had passed since Adam and Eve's sin, and during this time there was ample evidence that mankind did not have it within himself to come up with a lasting solution which would bring about peace, harmony, and true unity with God or man. Sin was rampant, and mankind was destined to continue in sin and to reap the consequences. After 4,000 years of human history, nothing had changed in man's fundamental nature. God determined that this was a long enough period of time and sent forth the pre-existing Word as a man.

Paul emphasizes Christ's humanity when he points to the fact that He was "made of a woman." This attribute is universal for everyone else on earth, so we typically do not use it as a descriptor. But this descriptor illustrates that Jesus Christ was fully human. It also shows that Christ fulfilled various prophecies by being born rather than by coming to earth in all of His glory (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-9; Jeremiah 31:22; Micah 5:3).

Like all other men, Christ was "under law." This is not a reference to the Old Covenant; there is no definite article before "law" in the original Greek. He was not subject to the "Mosaic law," as some have assumed, but to the natural laws that God set in motion with the creation of man: He became hungry and thirsty when He went without food and water; He was wearied from physical exertion and lack of sleep; His physical body had limits in terms of the abuse it could take before it quit working; His body was subject to gravity, inertia, decay, and so forth. He was subject to every physical cause-and-effect situation that everyone else who has ever lived has been subject to.

Some modern translations render verse 4 as "born of a woman, born under [the] law." This is misleading, because Paul was not meaning to draw attention to the birth but of the supernatural conception. Paul uses the word ginomai for "made," and it means "to cause to be" or "to come into being." The emphasis is on the means or the action that something comes to be the way it is. The Greek word for "born" is gennao, which Paul did not use. Jesus Christ was "made of a woman" when He was miraculously conceived.

Christ was not "born under the law," in the sense that He was duty-bound to keep all of the ceremonies, washings, and sacrifices. However, He was "made under law." To be "under law" means to be subject to the condemnation of the law, which comes into action when one sins. Christ clearly never sinned, but nonetheless He was made [caused] to be "under law" when He was crucified and all of mankind's sins were laid upon Him, and He paid the death penalty which the law required.

Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made [ginomai] a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." This does not mean that the law is a curse, but that the law has a curse, and that curse is eternal death (Romans 6:23). Christ was caused to be "under law," under the condemnation of the law, when He accepted the death penalty for all of our sins.

David C. Grabbe


 

Ephesians 2:8-10

Is there any contradiction between the opinions of Paul and James on this matter?

Simply, no! Paul, in Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is required and, as we have seen, in verse 10, says that good works are also required. James, in the second chapter of his epistle, says that faith and works are inseparable:

· Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (verse 17)

· But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (verse 20)

· For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (verse 26)

In his Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley states that:

Paul's doctrine of Justification by Faith, and James' doctrine of Justification by Works, are supplementary, not contradictory. Neither was opposing the teaching of the other—they were devoted friends and co-workers. James fully endorsed Paul's work (Acts 15:13-29; 21:17-26).

Paul preached Faith as the basis of justification before God, but insisted that it must issue in the right kind of Life. James was writing to those who had accepted the doctrine of Justification by Faith but were not Living Right, telling them that such Faith was No Faith at all. (p. 659, capitalization as in original)

The Revised Standard Version translates James 2:20 in a very interesting and appropriate way: "Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?" It is barren that is so intriguing. In the Bible, several women—for example, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth—could not have children. In the physical realm, a fertile male and a fertile female are both required conditions for reproduction for most forms of life. Spiritually, active faith and active works are both required conditions to reproduce godly, spiritual life in us. In both cases, life, whether spiritual or physical, is a gift of God, the Creator and Life-giver. If either condition is absent or inactive, barrenness or lack of new life results.

Another meaning of barren common in English is that of a land without vegetation, a desolate place. The Greek word James uses is argos (instead of nekra, "dead," as in verses 17 and 26), meaning "lazy," "unproductive," "unprofitable," "idle," "ineffective." Its literal meaning is "no work" [a (negative) + ergon (work)]! The word picture that develops is of an area of land that receives plenty of sunshine but too little rain, and hence, it is barren, desolate. Such a land cannot be worked because it will not produce anything profitable. In the same way, a person having only faith will produce nothing profitable; he needs a steady "rain" of work to grow and mature.

So there is no contradiction. Faith is required. Works are required. Works toward God are to do His will and His work and, yes, to obey His laws. Works toward our neighbors are to serve them and to do good for them. Doing them promotes growth of godly character and provides a shining example of true Christian living.

Faith without works is dead. Faith with works is life—eternal life!

Staff
Faith Without Works


 

Ephesians 2:8-10

Notice first how this chapter begins: He has made us alive (Ephesians 2:1). Paul makes sure that we understand that it is God who gives what we spiritually possess. As for verse 8, it does not matter whether we believe that the pronoun "it" refers to grace or faith; both are gifts of God.

Grace is God's kindness to us, shown or demonstrated by His revealing Himself to us. It might help to think of this in reference to God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush before He sent him to Egypt. If God did not freely purpose on the strength of His own sovereign will to reveal Himself, neither Moses nor we would ever find Him. If a person cannot find God on his own, how could he possibly have faith in Him? Satan has deceived us so well that men have only the foggiest idea of what to look for.

Faith—with God as its object—begins and continues as part of His gift of kindness. The gift includes His calling, the granting of repentance, the sacrifice of Christ for our forgiveness, and His giving of His Spirit. It is a complete package of many individual gifts. The gospel is the medium that provides knowledge of the objects of the faith He gives, that is, what we believe and trust in. Paul, perceiving these gifts as a package, uses "grace" as its label. In verses 9-10, he advances to the logical "next step" in God's purpose.

Our works in no way jump-start the process of justification, sanctification, and glorification. All our works, beginning with repentance and continuing through our period of sanctification, depend directly on the freely given kindness and faith God provides. Our God-ordained good works are the result of our response to the gift of faith that God gives. Works, then, are the external evidence of the unseen, internal faith that motivates them. A person could not do them unless God had given the gift of faith beforehand. Good works follow, they do not precede.

II Corinthians 5:17-18 confirms this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This corroborates that it is God working in the person. His work is termed a "new creation." Since nothing new creates itself, we are the workmanship of another. We are God's workmanship. In sum, because of what God does, we cooperate and produce works that He ordains.

The apostle Paul adds to our understanding in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." He is not saying that we should work in order to obtain salvation. These verses indicate the continuing use of something one already possesses. They suggest carrying something to its logical conclusion, which is for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, doing the works God ordained, as in Ephesians 2:10.

In Romans 9:9-19, Paul, using Jacob and Esau's pre-birth circumstances as a foundation, provides a clear illustration to show that from beginning to end, the whole salvation process depends upon God's involvement. Jacob, representing those called into the church, received God's love in the form of gifts designed to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. From Esau, representing the uncalled, God has simply withheld His love for the time being.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)


 

 




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