What the Bible says about
Faith and Works
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This last curse is a clincher, more expansive in scope by far than the others. By its substance as well as its position, it serves to point out that the previous eleven curses serve in aggregate as an encapsulation of all the laws of God. In fact, the curse will come to any person who violates any of the precepts of God's law. There is no room for hypocrisy. The apostle Paul may have had the twelfth curse in mind when he wrote to God's people in Rome: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13).
Confirmation of the law does not take place through word but through works, works of overt obedience. As a second witness, consider God's own orders to His prophet Jeremiah:
The Lord said to me, “Listen to the terms of the covenant. Tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I, the Lord God of Israel, have placed a curse on everyone who does not obey the terms of this covenant. It is the covenant I made with their ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, the land that was like a blazing furnace to them. I told them to obey Me and to do everything that I had commanded. I told them that if they obeyed, they would be My people and I would be their God. Then I would keep the promise I made to their ancestors that I would give them the rich and fertile land which they now have.” (Jeremiah 11:1-5, Good News Translation)
Through the same prophet, God tells us that appearances do not fool God. He sees through the mask, recognizing reality clearly: “For My eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from Me, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17).
Unity and Division: The Blessing and the Curse (Part Four)
Four men arrive late, carrying a paralyzed man on his bed. When they realize that they cannot possibly get him through the door, they carry their helpless paralytic friend upstairs to the roof and lower the bed in front of Jesus as He is speaking. Their determination to place him before Jesus displays their faith that he would be healed. Instead of being deterred by the problem of the crowds, they see the possibilities for solving it. If they could only involve God, they thought, things would go well. The persevering efforts of the four friends pay off for their paralytic friend as they help make possible his spiritual healing as well as his physical healing. Their actions are an example of the apostle James' statement in James 2:18: "I will show you my faith by my works."
Christ finds faith in the friends, and He honors their faith, rather than any faith the sufferer has. Of course, no one can be saved by another's faith. Yet, another or others can help him along to Christ since only He can deliver him from the bondage of sin. Being pleased with their works, which exhibited their faith, Christ responds to their resourcefulness and perseverance in behalf of their suffering friend. Their faith in Christ, then, is the catalyst in His performing this miracle. Our Savior works where faith is present (Luke 5:20). Obviously, He can perform His work anywhere regardless of human faith, but He often chooses not to act when people lack faith in Him, as happened in Nazareth (Matthew 13:58).
Hope motivates the paralytic's friends to manifest faith. First, their faith is a wise faith in that it brought the paralytic to the only One who could heal. Second, it is a persistent faith because it is undeterred by seemingly overwhelming obstacles. Third, it is a sacrificial faith in that it gives of its time and effort to bring the paralytic before Christ. Fourth, it is an unintimidated faith because it is unashamedly displayed in public. Fifth, it is a humble faith since the friends do not ask Jesus to come to him but take him to Jesus. Sixth, it is a loving faith because the friends willingly expend great effort to get him real help. Finally, it is an active faith in that they take the man to Christ rather than sit around complaining and grumbling about their friend's woeful condition.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Paralytic (Part One)
There are at least two possible ways to understand what He means. The first is that God is always working to produce faith in His people so they can properly use their free moral agency. The second, however, is the primary meaning because they ask what they had to do. Jesus replies that godly work for the individual is believing in or on Him as Messiah.
In other words, as Jesus uses it, faith is itself a work. Labor is involved in faith because living faith requires activity to meet the definition given in James 2. As the apostle says, faith without works is dead, and such "faith" is in realty not even faith. Some, especially evangelical Protestants, object to this because they feel it creates a "works" salvation.
Their objections, though, are so much sound and fury without biblical substance. Jesus says at least a dozen times in different ways that salvation is by grace. Biblically, merely believing or agreeing with God or some biblical doctrine is of itself no better than being dead. Dead things produce nothing because nothing is working to produce anything. This is why Paul in Hebrews 3 can use "unbelief" and "disobedience" interchangeably. In other words, if a person only agrees, he merely has a preference, and his works will be at best inconsistent and sporadic. If a person has living faith, however, his belief will be a conviction, and works will occur.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Four)
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 Sixteen)
2 Corinthians 6:1
In other words, "Do not receive the grace of God to no purpose." That is what vanity is. It has no purpose, no contact with reality. God is reality, and the Kingdom of God is reality. The law of God is reality because it is truth, and truth, by definition, is reality.
Again, Paul's appeal is, "Do something!" What are we to do? He replies, "Cooperate with God! Truly work with Him to accomplish His will in your life." Jesus says, "Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" He is the One who says in Luke 16:29-31 that, if we want to know how to avoid the Lake of Fire, look to Moses and the prophets. This is why Paul says in II Corinthians 5:20, "Be reconciled to God through the repenting of sin. Quit breaking His law."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Sixteen)
Paul, Peter, and the other Jews, because of their familiarity with Scripture (the Old Testament), would have known that a man could not be justified in God's eyes through the "works of the law"—by his own righteousness (Psalm 130:3; 143:2; Exodus 34:7; Job 4:17; 9:2-3,29; 15:14; 25:4; Ecclesiastes 7:20).
It is impossible for us, once we have sinned even once, to be in alignment with God of our own volition. Justification is an act of God by which He declares a person acceptable before Him because Christ has borne the sinner's guilt. However, this is the beginning of the common misconception that faith and works are mutually exclusive. In that view, works are of no avail at all, and all one has to do is "believe." But that notion is refuted in Matthew 7:21-23 and James 2:19-20, among other places.
The common interpretation of this verse—that belief is all that is required—cannot be correct, for it is contradicted in James 2:21 and Romans 2:13. Given that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), all three of these verses must complement rather than contradict each other. It should be remembered that in Galatians 2:6, 9, Paul met with the leaders in Jerusalem—including James—and there was no disagreement between them! Verse 6 shows that they did not have anything to "add" to what Paul was preaching to the Gentiles, and by extension, there was nothing to be taken away, changed, etc. Verse 9 shows they agreed on their respective responsibilities, but there is no indication of any doctrinal disagreement between them. In this light, it can be concluded that the verse in question here will not only agree with, but will also complement what James wrote, as well as what Paul wrote in Romans 2:13 (or else Paul would have been double-minded, and thus "unstable in all his ways"; James 1:8).
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 2:21-24)
This section by James appears to contradict directly what Paul says in Galatians. If we go by the common interpretation, these verses are diametrically opposed to each other. Given that Scripture cannot be broken, however, these passages must complement one another. The interpretation of one or both of them is wrong when the conclusion is reached that one is justified by faith only.
The faith that is mentioned in either one of those verses is given without qualification as to when the faith is used—whether for justification or sanctification. The context of Galatians 2:16 seems to indicate it is talking about justification (being brought into alignment with God and His law after He has called us out of the world; John 6:44). However, in James 2:24 it is not clear whether he is referring to justification or sanctification, but it seems to be a little bit more weighted toward sanctification (the process one goes through after entering into the covenant with God).
James 2:20 shows plainly that faith without works is dead at any time during a Christian's calling and conversion—whether for justification or sanctification.
The picture begins to form that works indeed may play a part in a person's justification. To look at it another way: Does repentance play a part in God's forgiveness of our sins, and thus justification? Repentance is not merely feeling sorrow and crying out to God, as II Corinthians 7:1 shows (where we are commanded to cleanse ourselves). Repentance also includes a change of mind and heart, and at the very least, the beginning of turning to God in obedience. Repentance is not genuine if one is merely sorry; one has to begin to change his ways to show how deep the sorrow goes. All too often we are sorry that we are caught, or that we have to pay the consequences, rather than truly being sorry for sinning (falling short of the glory of God). True repentance will be a deep conviction that what we have done is wrong, and it will be deep enough to motivate us to change from our past behavior—and this change qualifies as "works." As it has been said, "God saves us from our sins, not in our sins." There is a difference, and this gives an indication that there may indeed be a measure of works involved in Galatians 2:16, small though it may be.
Galatians 2:16 does not say in the Greek exactly what it says in the English, and it sheds light on our understanding of the relationship between faith and works when we understand it as it is written in the Greek. The phrase in question here is: "A man is not justified by works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ." In the Greek it says, "A man is not justified by the works of the law: [he is not justified] except through faith in Jesus Christ."
This is a very significant difference. "Except through" points to the means by which justification is accomplished without nullifying or canceling out the importance of works. The verse is not saying that works are of no avail or are unimportant. Clearly, they are important in the example of repentance. It is saying that works without faith in the blood of Jesus Christ are of no avail. Works, coupled with faith in Jesus Christ, are just fine. But all the works in the world, if they are not coupled with faith in Jesus Christ are of absolutely no avail!
This makes Galatians 2:16 agree perfectly with James 2:20-24: "Faith without works is dead." Living faith and works go together, in terms of either justification or sanctification, if the works are combined with faith in Jesus Christ. Faith and works are not contradictory, but complementary, IF Christ is part of the mix. Works of the law do not justify a man, except through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul is saying that any amount of lawkeeping—it does not matter if it is Gnostic law, Judaic law, the statutes or judgments of God, the Ten Commandments—if it is not connected to faith in Jesus Christ, accomplishes nothing in terms of justification. Even keeping the Ten Commandments must be coupled with faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is not saying the law is done away; he is tying the two of them together, and it is a positive combination—if the faith in Jesus Christ is the main ingredient.
Galatians 2:16 makes even more sense when it is compared to Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." The keeping of God's law alone will not justify them, but God expects that someone who has faith in Christ will keep His law, and therefore it is good to do that, because works are evidence in what one has faith. Without works, God would never be sure of what we really believe (see, for example, Genesis 22:11-12).
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
When Paul says, "know you therefore," he is instructing them to learn from this case (Psalm 100:3; Luke 21:31; Hebrews 13:23).
The Greek word translated "of" here is "a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds)." In this case, it is referring to those people whose origin or source is faith—those who have the right faith, which have been justified by God. This is the starting point of their spiritual life. Paul is showing that we are children of Abraham based on what we believe (have faith in), which is then evidenced by the way we live our life.
One of the many disputes that Christ had with the Jews during His time was over lineage. The Jews traced their physical lineage back to Abraham, and thus considered themselves to be children of Abraham. Christ disagreed with this because, if they were Abraham's sons in the fullest sense, they would have believed and acted just as Abraham did. The real children of Abraham are not his natural descendants (Matthew 3:9), but those who share his faith. This is why Abraham is called the "father of the faithful" (see also Luke 3:8; Romans 2:28-29, 9:6; James 2:21-23).
It is interesting to note again the link between faith (belief) and works (action). In this verse, Paul says that the true children of Abraham are the ones who have the same faith that Abraham had. Yet in John 8:39-41, Christ says the Jews really are not Abraham's children because their works—their actions—were not in accordance with what Abraham had done. There certainly is no contradiction here; the faith that made Abraham remarkable is the faith that motivates people to do good works (James 2:17-26)!
David C. Grabbe
A simple illustration will help us understand. Imagine being the root of a tree. The root does a tremendous amount of work in producing the tree's fruit. It draws moisture and nourishment in the form of minerals from the soil, processes them to some degree, then passes them on to the rest of the tree. However, the root could do none of this unless the minerals and water were freely given and available for it to do its work.
Similarly, faith is a gift, like the water and minerals, freely given by God to produce certain works. Like a tree root, we have a measure of control because we have a part to play—working to believe and use what God has given—in producing the fruit of the Spirit. Thus, faith is simultaneously a gift and a work. It is a gift because the Son of Man gives it to us (John 6:27) and a work because we must exercise it (John 6:29). As a food, faith is very nourishing for the mind, necessary for mental soundness and an abundant life. It will not be present in us unless we work to assimilate it by believing it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Four)
These verses confront us with a list of spiritual-sounding words: grace, saved, faith, gift, works. Even those who have been in God's church for many years and who may clearly understand each of these words individually are slowed down in comprehension when faced with such terms presented one after the other.
So, let us take a very brief Greek lesson. Here are the key terms contained in this scripture in English and Greek, the Strong's Concordance reference number, and, to make the meanings clearer, other English terms translated in the New Testament from the same Greek words:
- Grace (#5485): charis (khar'-ece). Also translated as favor, thanks, thank, pleasure.
- Saved (#4982): sozo (sode'-zo). Also translated as make whole, heal, be whole.
- Faith (#4102): pistis. Also translated as assurance, believe, belief, those who believe, fidelity.
- Gift (#1435): doron. Also translated as present, offering.
- Works (#2041): ergon. Also translated as deed, doing, labor.
Ergon is the original Greek for the English word "works." It does not appear to be a very difficult, ambiguous, or confusing term. But what do the many people and churches who claim that works are not required perceive "works" to be?
Opinions vary. One group perceives works to mean the whole law in general. A second group perceives works as specific portions of God's law, which they look upon as being "Jewish" or"Old Covenant," or that they are just not willing to keep and teach. A third group, amazingly enough in their rejection of it, perceives this term as meaning works of charity in general!
Individuals or groups who choose to substitute the word "law" for the word "works" in Ephesians 2:8-9, and who thus say that New Testament Christians do not have to keep God's law, do not appear to mean it totally and literally. Instead, most of them reserve the right to choose which parts of the law they wish to keep ("You shall not kill," "You shall not steal," etc.) and those that they do not wish to keep ("Remember the Sabbath," holy days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, etc.). God has nowhere given authority to His people to be selective in these matters, thus this stance toward the law is inconsistent and even hypocritical.
The church of God has always agreed one hundred percent with those who say that salvation is a gift, and that a Christian cannot earn salvation by charitable works or by obedience to God's law. However, obedience is a condition we must meet before God will give us His free gift of salvation. New Testament evidence is overwhelming on the matter. Here are just a few verses:
» And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit, which God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:32)
» He who says, "I know him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:4)
» So He said to [the rich young ruler], "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17)
» If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9, does not say that works are not required at all. The purpose of his statement is to show that works do not save us, but that grace and faith do! In fact, the very next verse, verse 10, shows that God calls members of His church for the very purpose of performing good works: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
The apostle's language is very clear. God desires us to walk in good works, and He has prepared our spiritual educational process so that we will learn to do them. Doing good works in the name of Jesus Christ is a major part of the purpose for the life of each true Christian. We cannot truly be Christians without them!
Faith Without Works
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!
Faith Without Works
Where do we get the faith that is required for salvation? Ephesians 2:8 answers: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." We cannot work it up—that would be our effort (Isaiah 64:6).
Consider when God first started working with us. One year we were clueless, the next year things were making sense. We read the Bible and understood it, but more importantly, we believed it.
Where did that belief come from? It was, as Ephesians 2:8 says, a gift from God. The real miracle is not that we understood, but rather that we now believed those words we understood. And this happened only because God made it possible.
What was the evidence that we believed those words? We began living by them. Our new works and actions were the evidence of our faith: keeping the Sabbath, tithing, eating habits, etc.
Just like Abraham, our actions showed our desire to begin a right relationship with God motivated by His gift of faith. "Don't you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions" (James 2:21-22, New Living Translation).
To complete our faith, are we willing to believe and do whatever God tells us? Consider those first experiences as we began to believe. We faced family pressure, work pressure, peer pressure, etc., to obey what we now believed. What evidence did we have to back up our actions? All we had were God's words. Armed with only those words, we willingly faced any opposition to act on what God commands. Just like Abraham, it was our faith in those words that encouraged us to obey and begin our journey, not knowing where we were going (Hebrews 11:8).
At our baptism, could we have predicted all the twists and turns our lives have taken since? Just like Israel's journey after baptism in the Red Sea, God has taken us in a zigzag route across this wilderness we call life. What was our evidence of things not seen? Only the words of God. That was the only evidence we had then, and it is the only sure evidence we have now.
As we deal with our trials, do we remember that first love? Do we remember the challenges we were willing to confront with only the words of God as our evidence? It is no different today. Will we believe God or what we can see? God needs to find out just as He did with Abraham—to "know" we will obey, no matter what, until the end (Matthew 10:22).
To test our faith, God's pattern is to bring us to a point—a brick wall or a Red Sea—that seemingly allows no escape. That is where He can find out what is truly in our hearts—hearts of belief or evil unbelief (Hebrews 3:12). Will we believe Him or our eyes?
Faith—What Is It?
Hebrews 11:4-7 clearly teaches that God chooses to bless with rewards those who by faith choose to cooperate with Him in His spiritual creation. Abel, Enoch, and Noah are proofs of this fact. Thus, three major factors are linked in the spiritual creation process leading to salvation: grace, works, and rewards.
We can watch this unfold in Noah's experience with God. This is of particular importance to us living in the end time because both Jesus and Peter state that the end time would bear a similarity to Noah's day. Peter specifically shows in II Peter 2:5-6 that the Flood is a strong witness against the doctrine of uniformitarianism, the idea that earth's history has passed without variation through the ages:
. . . and [God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly. . . .
If God is the Savior and Rewarder of those who obey Him, then the opposite must be true: that He is the Punisher of those who despise Him. The Flood and Sodom are witnesses of this truth. Not all things have continued as they always have. The godly lived; the ungodly died. Despite what men say and think, God moved to punish mankind's sins in the days of Noah. That punishment came in the form of the Flood, which wiped out all land-based mammal and bird life except for Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark.
Genesis 6:8 reveals the beginning of Noah's salvation. It began in God's mind. It was absolutely unearned, being an act of God's kindness. This is step one.
Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah believed God's warning. This, combined with God's grace, becomes the foundation for Noah's reaction. Noah's belief is step two.
Next comes the effect of this combination: Internally, Noah "moved with fear." He was motivated—he felt an urge—due to his deep respect for God. The external effect was that he built the ark. This is step three.
The consequences of his foundation of grace and faith plus the impulse to move with fear comprise step four. He and his house were saved from the Flood, the world was condemned by his witness, and he became an heir of the righteousness that is by faith.
Did Noah's works save him? The answer is both yes and no. Consider: If Noah, not believing, had failed to prepare the ark, would he not have perished in the Flood along with everyone else? Certainly. Did his own efforts in building the ark, then, save him from the Deluge? No, they did not, because we have not yet considered all the parts God played in this scenario. He did far more than just warn Noah to build an ark.
Philippians 4:19 promises, "God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." This does not at all mean that we can do anything we want to, and that God will take up the slack. It means that God will supply all our needs within the project He has us working on.
Genesis 6:13-16; 7:14-16; 8:1; and other verses show God's oversight, guidance, and providence. Genesis 8:1 is especially important: "Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided."
"Remembered" indicates His special attention during the entire project, but it especially focuses on the time following the shutting of the door when those in the ark were helpless before the overwhelming onslaught of water. Huge torrents of water gushed from the earth, as well as fell from the heavens. This must have created huge waves. There is no indication that the ark had mast, sail, rudder, or wheel for navigation. Nevertheless, God was with them from beginning to end, giving them His special attention to preserve them and see His purpose accomplished.
This illustrates God working in them both to will and to do as they cooperated in their human, weak ways. This combination of God's grace and human cooperation produced their salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Moses was born into a terrible situation. We may think we were born into unfortunate circumstances, but our situations pale in comparison to Moses' start. However, he had one thing going for him humanly: his parents, Amram and Jochebed.
Moses, of course, was unaware of these things, but God supplied the saving grace in the form of Amram and Jochebed. The Exodus account focuses on the part of Jochebed because it was she, undoubtedly, along with Miriam, who actually carried out the casting of Moses on the Nile. Hebrews 11:23, though, uses the term "parents," so that we understand that Amram was also involved—with his faith.
Notice that they were not afraid of the king's command. The Bible does not say what strengthened their faith, but they did a pretty dangerous thing. They put their lives on the line, as well as Moses' life, by putting him out on the water. Did God speak to them in a dream? Did God give them a vision? Did God send an angel? Or did they rely on the promise given to Abraham, knowing that they were coming to the end of an age? We cannot know because God does not say.
Whatever it was, in a way it does not matter. All that matters is that, somehow, they believed it and followed through by doing this thing that, at least on the surface, appears to have been very risky. Were they convicted that what they were doing was right? Certainly! Even the power of Egypt could not turn them aside from their conviction. Even the fear or the threat of losing their lives could not dissuade them. They did not have a preference—they were convicted! They put their lives, and their son's life, on the line because they trusted the word of their God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses
Just as surely as a dead person does no works, so a faith, a religion, that does not include works is also dead. Thus, a person in whom living, saving faith exists will produce works.
One must also consider Ephesians 2:8, 10, which tell us that salvation is by grace through faith, and that the Father created us for good works, which He prearranged for us to perform. Therefore, how can a person with a dead faith, one that produces no works, be in God's Kingdom, since he would be failing to do the very thing for which God is creating him in Christ?
Furthermore, we are to be in God's image and to imitate Christ. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Our spiritual Father is a Creator, and a creator works. Most certainly, Jesus worked during His lifetime on earth, living a sinless life to provide us a means of justification. As our High Priest, He continues to work toward our salvation.
The root of this issue is that people have a dismally vague knowledge of what sin is, as well as an equally weak appreciation for the dangerous filthiness of sin, which can prevent us from entering God's Kingdom. We live in an exceedingly sinful nation in which we are confronted by sin from every quarter, including from within. Sin is so blatantly exhibited that most people seem to treat it with casual indifference until some form of it—rape, murder, thievery, lying, gossip, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drunkenness, etc.—personally hits them.
So many are unaware of what sin is that they ignorantly participate in it. Television and movie "entertainment" overflows with it. In fact, sin is woven so tightly into the fabric of movies and TV shows that one could wonder if any other subject material exists! In America, over one million unborn children are aborted each year, and people euphemistically call this a "privacy right," hiding from the reality that they are murderers! What else can one honestly call the taking of life from an unborn human being created in God's image?
Through Jeremiah, God accuses Judah of having a "whore's forehead," indicating a people so perverted and hardened in their sins they could no longer be shamed (Jeremiah 3:3). If we as a people have not reached that stage of degeneracy, we soon will because God cries through Ezekiel, "Make a chain, for the land is filled with crimes of blood, and the city is full of violence" (Ezekiel 7:23). Is there any other nation in the Western world that so openly exhibits as many violent crimes as the United States of America?
When one realizes sin's stranglehold on the United States, it becomes clear that a majority of its people are either ignorant of their responsibilities to God and fellow man, or no longer care what God thinks. A recent Barna poll reveals that an astounding 76 million American citizens never darken a church doorway to receive spiritual and moral instruction. How can they possibly appreciate what sin is and does?
Of far greater concern, though, are those who are reading this. God's ministers are responsible to make their teaching of God and His way as sharp and clear as they can so that those they teach can understand, not just the basics, but as broadly and deeply as possible so that it can be lived.
Wrong ideas about holiness usually lie in wrong ideas about human corruption. The responsibility of the Christian to seek the holiness of God provides the very reason God requires works. I Peter 1:15-16 charges us, "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"
The obverse of this common ignorance of sin is that, without a firm understanding of human corruption, we have little appreciation of the radiant glory of God's holiness toward which we are to strive! Sin lies exposed as the root cause of humanity's corrupt condition, but many, even in the church, do not appreciate the depth of persistent corruption in themselves.
Vague, dim, and indistinct understandings of sin will never serve a Christian well. He must always apply his mind to growing in understanding to throw off spiritual vagueness and simultaneously glorify our Father and Elder Brother. If one does not grasp the depth of his carnal heart's disease, it will constantly deceive him into thinking he has little to overcome, thus dragging him into pride. The human heart is so sick God tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurable!
Scripture uses terms for sin that are easily understood, but unless one meditates on them, they may not provide a clear picture of sin's many means of exerting its influence. The Bible's terms generally mean something like "missing the mark," "turning aside," or "slipping off the path." They can sound quite innocuous unless one recognizes the devastation sin has caused and ponders it seriously.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Two)
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