The Relationship of Faith and Works in Justification
The Church of Christ is under the impression that evangelicals have no part for works in the salvation formula. This is incorrect. The evangelical understanding is that grace = salvation + works. Though the Church of Christ does not use such formulas, their interpretation is either grace + works = salvation (semi-Pelagian), or works = salvation + grace (full-Palagian). Note: The = sign in these formulas means “leads to” or “results in.”
We have attempted above to show above that the Church of Christ hermeneutic of legalistic patternism is flawed. So how should the Bible be interpreted? Because this is so crucial, we repeat. First and foremost the Bible must be interpreted in such a way as not to be contradictory. If the Bible is contradictory, it cannot be God’s word. Let us examine a statement made to us by a Church of Christ preacher regarding justification (how we are saved): “I completely teach, believe, and agree with this idea: No person who has ever lived, is living, or will live, can in and of himself do something by which he earns, merits, deserves, or is given salvation. Every person, however, who hears and does what God has said to do in the way that God has said to do it will be saved by the grace of God through the blood of Christ.”
1. Is it not clear that this statement—which is typical of how CC folks state justification—is contradictory? If grace is a free gift (Rom 5:15, 16, 18; Rom 6:23), if it is unmerited favor—then God does not require ANY work in order to be saved. As Paul says in Rom 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
RT – This is pitiful! You assert that something is contradictory, but you did not demonstrate what is contradictory about it. O, you made an effort, but the effort you made bites you in the backside and you don’t even see it. You said, “then God does not require ANY work in order to be saved,” while Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Now that is a contradiction! You can’t get around it because you said “God does not require any work…” (and you emphasized the word any). If God does not require any work, then that means work that includes God. Just pitiful!
2. St. Paul clarifies what the Church of Christ is risking in its hermeneutic. He states, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Gal 2:20).” This is serious. By its legalistic patternism hermeneutic, the Church of Christ is nullifying the grace of God! It is giving too much credit for sinful man and too little credit to God and Christ’s finished work on the cross. As put by C. K. Moser, “If man must still work for salvation we have in Christ an atonement that does not atone!” See Moser.
3. We fully understand how difficult the concept—that our salvation is completely by Christ’s work and none of our own—is. This is incomprehensible for our Church of Christ brothers and so too for Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Jews, and every other religion. Yet the Bible insists over and over again that we are saved by faith and specifically not by our works (Romans chapters 1-9, Galatians chapters 1-3, Ephesians chapter 2, Titus chapter 3, etc). In fact, we count over 100 instances in the New Testament when it is stated that we are saved by grace rather than works. Yet the Bible commands us to obey! So how do we reconcile faith and works?
4. We have asked the CC why they keep coming back to James 2 in an attempt to show that salvation is through works, and the answer has been, because others “keep denying what it clearly teaches.” This answer implies that, in spite of insisting elsewhere that we are not saved by works, that in fact the CC really believes after all that we are. Is James contradicting the rest of the Bible? Perhaps we just can’t get it, but it seems clear to us that James himself is teaching that works are merely evidence of a true saving faith—that is, explanatory of the kind of faith that saves us?
RT – Your words are becoming boring. All you do is assert this or that, read what other men say, fail to show where something is wrong, and then put it forth like you are on the pontiff stand. In Galatians 2, what is the context of the word “works”, or does it matter? You bet it matters! Context is crucial to a proper understanding, and you have not been very good at including it in your essay. The straw man you have built with this effort of yours makes you feel good about the challenge you have set forth, but this has not turned out to be much of a challenge at all. Remarks on James 2 will be in the next post.