Justification by faith
[STUDY] JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH SERIES-
(1443) NOW THE LORD HAD SAID UNTO ABRAM, GET THEE OUT OF THY COUNTRY AND FROM THY KINDRED AND FROM THY FATHERS HOUSE, UNTO A LAND THAT I WILL SHOW THEE. AND I WILL MAKE OF THEE A GREAT NATION AND I WILL BLESS THEE AND MAKE THY NAME GREAT AND YOU WILL BE A BLESSING- Gen 12:1-2. I think for the next few days I will try and cover some key verses in both the old and new testaments that deal with the doctrine of justification by faith. I covered this subject in my Romans, Galatians, Hebrews [chapter 11] studies; and of course the doctrine of believing in Jesus and ‘being saved’ is found in the gospel of John study and the Acts study. But for the most part the main verses on the subject are these few in Genesis and the key chapters from Romans [3-4] and Galatians [2-4]. The doctrine simply means that God has chosen to justify [declare legally righteous] all those who have faith in Christ. There are many varied ways that Christian communions deal with the whole process of salvation, some churches are what you would call Sacramental [they believe in the process of God using the sacraments to administer grace to the soul of the believer, and that thru these sacraments, mixed with faith, believers become justified] and others hold more closely to the Pauline idea of faith being the actual mechanism that God uses to justify [which is my personal view]. Many modern Protestants who strongly disagree with the sacramental churches [Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican] fail to see that most of the reformers embraced some form of sacramentalism along with their belief in justification by faith. Luther being the strongest example; his embracing of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist [body, blood, soul and divinity] caused him to split from the great Swiss reformer, Ulrich Zwingli, and Luther believed Zwingli to be damned because he rejected the body of Christ! So for today’s ‘neo-reformed’ [the resurgence among Calvinism in our day] to be so quick to condemn many other types of Christians [Like those who follow Tom Wright] these are not ‘being fair’ to the broad system of belief that many of the great reformers held to. Okay, the above verse begins the journey between God and Abraham, thru a series of events thru out Abraham’s life God will reveal himself to Abraham, and at those times Abraham has a choice to either believe the promises of God to him- or reject them. These promises center around God telling Abraham that he will have a future dynasty of children that will bless the whole earth. In this dynasty there will be a special son that comes out of the tribe of Judah [Jesus] and he will be the promised seed to whom the promises were made [Galatians 3,4]. Paul the apostle will use the great father of the faith, Abraham, to convince the Jewish people that God justifies people by faith, and not by the works of the law. Paul goes to these past historic events [Gen 12, 15] and shows his fellow Jews that God did indeed justify Abraham [count him righteous] when he believed in the promise made to him by God [Gen 15]. Paul says ‘see, God justified Abraham before he was circumcised, therefore justification [being legally made right with God] is by faith and not by the keeping of the law’. This argument from Paul is simple, yet masterful. His Jewish audience knew these stories well, they just never ‘saw’ what Paul was seeing; once he broke thru ‘the veil’ [Corinthians] that blinded their hearts from the truth, then they could not escape the reality of what he taught them- these cultural stories of father Abraham would never be the same again. As I progress over the next few days I want to note that when we get to the book of James, we will be looking at a different type of justification than what Paul focused on. James will use the great event from Abraham’s life, the offering up of his son Isaac on the altar [Gen 22] as the event to define justification from his view. Many reformed do not fully see what James is saying, in my view. This type of ‘bible study’ [the type where we try and make everything fit our view] is common among many good men, but it fails to see that the scriptures come to us more in the sense of a portable library of books that cover the various perspectives of the time. Now, I am not advocating the view that the scriptures err, or that the bible has ‘competing theologies’ what I am saying is James use of the word ‘justification’ is actually a different use than what Paul means when he uses the Genesis 15 example to explain justification. Instead of trying to reconcile James with Paul by saying ‘all James means is the faith that saves has works’, which is limited indeed, we should leave room for seeing how James is coming to the table from a different point of view. James being one of the lead apostles at the Jerusalem council from Acts 15, and his defense of the importance of works from the strong Jewish background. I think Hebrews 11 actually deals with this subject [go read my commentary on the chapter to see where I’m coming from]. Okay, let’s leave off for now- go read the studies I just mentioned, familiarize yourself with the key chapters and will do some more tomorrow.
(1444) AND HE TOOK HIM OUTSIDE AND SHOWED HIM THE STARS AND SAID ‘LOOK AT THEM, CAN YOU NUMBER THEM’ AND THE LORD SAID ‘SO SHALL YOUR OFFSPRING BE’ AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED IN GOD AND HE CREDITED IT TO HIS ACCOUNT AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Genesis 15:5-6 [my paraphrase] As we journeyed from chapter 12, where God made the initial promise to Abraham, a few things occurred; God separated Abraham from his nephew Lot. The kings attacked Sodom and took Lot captive, Abraham took his men and went and freed Lot. The king of Sodom tries to reimburse Abraham for his good deed, Abraham turns him down. Abraham also went into Egypt and lied about Sarah his wife, out of fear he told the Egyptians she was his sister [so they wouldn’t kill him to get his wife] and the king takes her and later rebukes Abraham for lying. So he returns to the special place named Bethel [house of God] and regroups. Now in chapter 15 Abraham has some doubts, God gave Abraham this great promise of many children; but he has no kids yet! Abraham is getting up in years [around 75] and so is Sarah his wife; Abraham asks the Lord to consider counting his servant as his heir, this was done in those days. The Lord turns him down and says ‘no, one born from you will be the heir’ and this is just one stop of many along the path of Abraham’s doubts. Yes, he comes up with another winner down the road [like having a kid with the maid!] But this promise in chapter 15, and Abraham’s response by faith, is the actual text Paul uses in Galatians and Romans to show that being justified comes by faith, and not by keeping the law. I want to stress, this example from Abrahams life was real, he really was justified in Gods eyes by believing in the future promise of having a great dynasty; like I said in the last post, he was believing in Jesus when he believed in the promise. In the next few days I will try and cover some key verses in Galatians and Romans, but most of all I want you to see how God forgives people, makes them legally just in his sight, not because of what they have done- trying to do good, be a church goer, trying hard to keep the 10 commandments; all of these things are noble efforts, but they don’t earn God’s forgiveness, but God’s forgiveness is based on the grounds that Jesus died for our sins and rose again. All who believe in this promise are described as ‘the children of God, by faith in Jesus Christ’. Many of the Jewish people looked to Abraham as a great hero of the faith, Paul shows them thru these examples that all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile, become the ‘children of Abraham’ by faith, it’s not an ethnic/cultural thing anymore. If only the Muslims, Arabs and all other groups heard this message from the church; how liberating would this be! But we too often present an ethnic message based upon Old Testament verses that call certain Middle Eastern states ‘the enemies of Israel/God’. These views, not being rightfully filtered thru the message of the Cross, make it very difficult to evangelize the Arab world, after all would you want to embrace a religion whose book said ‘thus saith the Lord, all you white Europeans are a stench in my nostrils’! But because of our unwillingness to present a gospel based solely on faith, and not the ethnic backgrounds of individuals, we have reduced the message of the Cross from the wide net that the apostles used when presenting the message of Jesus- Lets declare with certainty ‘yes, we are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ’ Amen.
(1445) WAS NOT ABRAHAM OUR FATHER JUSTIFED BY WORKS WHEN HE OFFERED ISAAC HIS SON UPON THE ALTAR- YE SEE THEN HOW THAT BY WORKS A MAN IS JUSTIFED AND NOT BY FAITH ONLY- WAS NOT RAHAB THE HARLOT JUSTFIED BY WORKS? James 2:22-26. Okay, in Genesis chapter 22 we read the story of God telling Abraham to offer up his son Isaac upon the altar. Abraham obeys God and at the last minute the Lord stops him; but the angel of the Lord says because he did this, that now God knows he can be trusted and God will fulfill his promise to him. James uses this story to define what he means when he speaks of ‘being justified’ in Gods sight. I believe there have been many noble attempts at trying to reconcile this passage with the passages in Romans and Galatians where Paul specifically says ‘a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith’. Paul clearly teaches us that men cannot be justified by the works of the law; James says ‘see how men are justified by works’. The explanations I have heard go like this ‘James was simply saying the faith that saves is an active living faith’ ‘James is simply saying men are justified in the sight of other men by their works’ ‘James is simply saying true faith has works along with it’ while all of these things are true, they seem to not adequately deal with the 3 passages I quoted at the top. James says that when Abraham offered up his son on the altar that the scripture was fulfilled that said ‘he believed in God and he counted it to him for righteousness’. James is fully aware of the Genesis 15 promise to Abraham, the key verse Paul uses to define justification by faith; it’s just James is speaking about the process thru out life where men actually become righteous in practice, which is a result of being legally made righteous by faith. In essence when James says ‘see how men are justified by works’ he is describing the act of God being pleased with us, God having the right to say ‘yes, you obeyed me son, and I call you righteous in my eyes because you did obey me’. This process can be defined as being ‘justified by works’ while not contradicting Paul’s use of the term ‘justification by faith’. To me it is quite clear that James is saying more than just ‘real faith has works’ no, he is saying that the legal/forensic act of justification by faith [Gen. 15] leads to a life of actually doing just things [obeying God- Gen. 22] and when the legally justified believer obeys God, in a sense he is justified in Gods sight [not men’s!] by these works. Now, this does not mean men are ‘saved’ by doing good works, in the sense that Paul uses ‘saved’ but James is saying that when believers do good works, these works cause a response from God that can be defined as ‘being justified in Gods sight by our good works’ a totally different theme than Paul. This passage has been a difficult one for many years, Luther battled with it and at one point called James epistle a ‘straw epistle’ he doubted its canonicity. The Catholic Church used this very passage in their council at Trent to refute what they saw as Luther’s neglect of good works. I have had Mormons and other various Christian groups use this passage in defending certain aspects of their churches; this passage is well worn in the annals of Christian apologetics, I think the explanation that I just gave is the best one; the other efforts that have been made to explain this passage have some truth to them, but at the end of the day they don’t fully explain the clear text of the above passages. I think this explanation explains them.
(1446) ‘Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no man be justified’ ‘I do not frustrate the grace of God, if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain’ ‘But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for the just shall live by faith’ Galatians 2:16, 21, 3:11. Okay, these verses [as well as the book of Romans] strongly show us the New Testament doctrine of being justified when we believe in Christ. To many people this idea seems contrary to the normal belief that being a good person, doing good, going to ‘church’ trying to keep the 10 commandments; these are the normal ideas on what people think they need to do to ‘be saved’; yet the apostle shows us that our redemption is solely based on Christ’s death for us. He even says ‘if righteousness [being made just legally] comes by keeping the law, then Christ died in vain’! It almost seems strange for this doctrine to be found in the bible! Yet it is the basis of New Testament Christianity, which is based on a New Covenant [in contrast to the old one, which was the law] this New Covenant is grounded on the death and resurrection of Jesus; as Paul says ‘if Christ died for all of us, then we are all dead- so let those who now live, live unto God’. When I first became a Christian and started reading the bible, I saw these promises as saying ‘all who believe in Jesus are saved’ but I noticed how many believers taught a type of conversion that watered down this doctrine; some said ‘yes, you accept the Lord by faith’ and they seemed to add all types of steps that needed to be ‘done in faith’ in order to be a true believer. Whether it was an elaborate evangelical scheme that eventually led to kneeling at an altar in some church, or whether it was the exact memory and dating of the day you asked ‘Jesus into your heart’. Now I’m sure there are many fine believers who have come to the journey this way, my point is not to doubt their conversion; but the more I became aware of these many ideas, the more I studied the scriptures to see if faith really meant ‘faith’. My own conversion came from truly seeing the promises in John’s gospel on believing and having eternal life. It was more of an awakening, sort of God breaking thru and revealing grace to me. Now, my conversion was rather drastic, it wasn’t a slow coming to the Lord, but it didn’t fit the sinner’s prayer scheme that many of my Baptist friends embraced. I also noticed how many of my friends, after hearing the evangelical version for so long, would then ‘get saved’ for real! They would be convinced by some well meaning evangelist that their initial conversion was shot thru with holes, then they would sort of fabricate a ‘more legitimate’ conversion. Even strong believers would do this. So then you had to deal with the fact that these fellow believers, who were truly walking with the Lord for a while, were really lost all along! This process struck fear into the hearts of all the other church members, after all how many of them were deceived too? So I began to study the bible to see if bible conversions really meant this often elaborate schema. One thing I noticed is all of these verses on being justified by faith were based on the main promise to Abraham from God, which consisted of God taking Abraham outside and telling him ‘see the stars, your offspring will be like this’ and it actually was a passive act of belief, not some act of Abraham doing something, that is defined as the day God justified Abraham. Then I ran across Acts chapter 10, and this story shows Peter preaching to the gentiles and they simply believed the message and the Spirit fell on them- Peter was not expecting a conversion, they were surprised. This also was a passive type conversion. In the letter we are quoting from in this post [Galatians] Paul describes it like this ‘He that works miracles among you, does he do it by the works of the law or the HEARING OF FAITH’ Paul will describe their conversion as a point in time where they heard and had faith, again another seeming violation of the active conversion model. The main point being that yes, there are cases where the conversion is reduced to the simple act of believing in the gospel when it’s first preached. To be fair, in the New Testament the outward ‘act’ that usually took place on ‘conversion day’ was water baptism, so if we were totally honest with ourselves we could say that water baptism was the altar call of the New Testament, but the fact is faith itself is identified as the basis of our justification, faith in Christ.
(1448) ‘Now we know that what things so ever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no person become just in God’s sight: for by the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested, even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all that believe’ Romans 3:19-22. Once again Paul makes clear that people become right in God’s eyes when they believe in his son, the attempt at becoming right with God by obeying the law is futile. Why? Because that was never the intended purpose of the law. God gave the law to reveal to man his sin; when men would try to live up to the standard, they would fall short and realize their need for a savior and then would turn to Christ. Paul says before the law came [before he personally became aware of it] he was without guilt, but once he realized the statutes of God and saw Gods holy standard; he said that sin in him revived and he died. Or the law caused a reaction in him that made his sinful nature appear to be much worse than he originally thought. Paul said in Galatians that the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but after faith has come we are no longer under a schoolmaster. He said ‘wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions till the seed should come [Jesus=seed, offspring] to whom the promise was made’. Paul taught that the purpose of the law was to reveal to man his own sin, that there never was a law given that a man could obey in order to become saved. The other day I googled the ministry name and was glad to see that some Catholic friends have been posting our site on Catholic sites. Great! My goal is not to convince fellow Christians to change churches, or become Protestant; my goal is to accurately teach the truth to all who want to hear. To some of our Catholic friends these verses seem unbelievable, that is they might seem too good to be true. I want to assure you that the Catholic church believes the things that I just taught! But like all Christian churches, sometimes we don’t effectively communicate these truths to the people. Many people do not realize that the current Pope, Benedict, is one of the most able theologians that the church has had in this office. John Paul the 2nd was a great man, don’t get me wrong. But he was more of a philosopher/humanist charismatic figure; Benedict is more of a teacher. Why mention this? Because you will notice that the last year or so the Pope has made an extra effort to teach Paul’s epistles and to focus more on a strong Christology than in past years. This Pope has made efforts to bridge the gap between Protestants and Catholics; he also has come closer to the Protestant view of certain passages that speak of justification by faith. A few years ago a joint statement was made that many Protestants saw as a major breakthrough in this very area. I want to assure my Catholic readers, yes- it sounds too good to be true, but it is! Even your church believes it! That is we all believe that we are freely saved by Gods grace that comes to us thru the Cross of Christ. I would be dishonest to say there are no more difficult doctrinal issues between the great Christian confessions, but I can say for a surety ‘we are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ’. Note- I am not saying the Catholic church does not believe in the importance of keeping the 10 commandments, they believe that all Christians should keep the commandments.
(1449) ‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein’? Romans 6:1 Being we are just hitting on the theme of justification by faith, and because I already did an entire study on Romans, I will skip over chapter 4; but I want to mention that chapter 4 covers a lot of important material about Abraham and the fact that God justified him prior to his circumcision, Paul uses this illustration to show us that being accepted with God transcends ethnic/racial lines. Many of the Jewish people of Paul’s day [including Paul’s former life!] saw acceptance with God along the lines of ethnic/cultural relations; if you were part of the Jewish nation and partook of all the rights and privileges of ethnic Israel, then you were seen as being accepted with God. But Paul’s message of justification by faith applies to ‘all the seed’ [offspring] not just to those who have become circumcised and have joined into ethnic Israel. So these points are important to understand. But now let’s get to the above verse. Paul will emphatically teach that the message of free grace does not mean we have a license to sin; he teaches this in ALL of his letters. It’s easy to focus in on the justification by faith themes [which we are doing in this study] and overlook the moral teachings of the apostle. Paul will teach ethics, not from a legal/law grounding [obey the 10 commandments] but from a new resurrection reality. He states that those of us who have been joined [baptized] into Christ have identified with him in death; the old man [sinful nature] has died along with Jesus and has been buried. Now that we are alive with him we live a new life unto God. Paul will say ‘shall we sin because we are now under grace and not under law’ and notice, he does not appeal to the law, instead he says ‘no, because whoever you serve [sin or righteousness] you become a slave to it, and if you are a slave to sin you will die’. Paul appeals to the reality of sin and death as still being a real price to be paid by those who reject Jesus. It’s important to see this theme from Paul, it backs up his teaching that believers are not under the law. In the next day or so I will wrap up this study; if I had the time and space I could go thru all the moral mandates we find in Paul’s letters, and it would be an important thing to emphasize. It’s just this is not the purpose of this study. But I would be remiss if I did not at least hit a few key scriptures from the apostle himself that show us that he certainly was not teaching lawlessness; he himself stressed the need for believers living a holy life. Its just the grace to live it comes from the power of the Cross, not from the law.
(1450) BUT NOW WE ARE DELIVERED FROM THE LAW, THAT BEING DEAD WHEREIN WE WERE HELD; THAT WE SHOULD SERVE IN NEWNESS OF SPIRIT, AND NOT IN THE OLDNESS OF THE LETTER. Romans 7:6 I think this will be a good chapter to end our series on justification by faith. Paul uses one of my favorite analogies to describe the new relationship we have in Christ; he says a woman, as long as her husband is alive, is bound by the law to her husband. If she goes out and sleeps with another man, she is convicted by the law and is committing adultery. But if the husband dies, then the same act of being with another man [in marriage] is no longer called adultery, by virtue of the death of the husband she has become free from the law that condemned her. Now Paul teaches that we too have become dead to the law thru the death of Christ, so that we should be married to another; even to him who died and rose again! I have often said it’s sad that believers in our day know all the catch phrases, they are familiar with the pop Christian culture verses and all, but these very important themes are often overlooked. Would to God that all believers were familiar with this scripture, walking around in life quoting ‘we have become dead to the old law thru Christ, we are now alive with him and are married to him who rose from the grave’. Thru out this chapter Paul once again shows that the law is holy and good, but its purpose was to arouse in us our sinful nature in order to reveal to us the need for a savior. The old way of life for Paul was one of condemnation and never being able to do enough to appease his sinful conscience, when he saw the realities of the new covenant he was delivered from that old mindset and began to see a new way to approach God, a free liberating walk with God, apart from the daily grind of trying in his own power to become righteous. Many good believers struggle with this for years, and there really is no trick or gimmick to the spirit filled life. Paul will go on and teach the need for self discipline; he said he ‘beat his body to bring in into subjection’ he obviously was not espousing a Christian walk that never had struggles again. But he was telling us that there is a fundamental difference between approaching the Christian life thru a legalistic mindset, or thru the freedom that comes from Christ. In conclusion we have learned that right from the early days of Abraham God had revealed to us that there was coming a day when men would approach God upon the grounds of faith, and not by works; that God included this great promise in the bible since the beginning; it was not an afterthought! Paul showed us that this new way of life was ordained of God before the law was given; it just took a couple of thousand years to get to the promised ‘seed’. Paul showed us that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised child, and now that he has come we are no longer under the schoolmaster [law] but we have been freed from the old law thru the death of Christ, we are now married to another, even to him who rose from the grave- AMEN!