Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
“Johnny Boy. Straight to the
detention room and write out ‘I must not
have fun ridiculing silliness and its advocates’
four hundred times, please!”
(Carl Trueman, “The true repentance of an inconvenient jester” in “Fools rush in where monkeys fear to tread”).
The relation between faith and works in the justification of sinners is one among several theological issues that divide Christians. The issue I examine here is the relationship between justification (that is, salvation, reconciliation with God), faith and works.
For the Jew, faith means faithfulness (emunah), and emunah for rabbinic Judaism means faithfully fulfilling God’s commandments(mitzvot). There are some Christians who say that the way a Christian lives (his works) is totally irrelevant, for the moment you believe, you are saved. You don’t even have to repent because you’d be doing a work. Once you believe, you can sin as much as you like, for doesn’t Jesus say,” I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life”(John 6:47)? And doesn’t it say in Galatians?
“I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:3-6).
The Roman Catholic position on the issue is expressed in Canon 24 of the Council of Trent:
“If anyone says that justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely fruits and signs of justification obtained, not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. (Council of Trent sixth session, celebrated on the thirteenth day of January, 1547, Decree concerning Justification).”
The prevalent Protestant view, in contrast, is that works are indeed “(merely) the fruits and signs of justifications obtained” This is my position as well. This Protestant position, though, would not say that works are “merely” the fruits of justification, which might create the impression that it doesn’t matter what kind of good works you live once you believe.
Last week I listened to an episode on this topic on James White’s “Radio Free Geneva.” White is a Calvinist; so am I. Hey, come back! Although some Calvinist doctrines did come into White’s discussion, most Protestant Christians, I think, would resonate with White’s position on the faith-works issue, which we shall deal with later on. White usually plays excerpts of recordings of the people he discusses. Here he is unravelling and revelling in Brother Jack’s sermon on “James White is going to hell.” The sermon appeared on Youtube but, says White, has subsequently been removed from public viewing. I think this Jack is Jack Lennom of “Free Grace Bible Chapel.” Here are some of the highlights of Jack’s sermon.
Faith versus Jerks
Characters: James Jerk, Jack Faith.
Setting: The underground bunker of Liberty University. (White beams his “Radio Free” Geneva,” he says – only I believe him – from “an underground bunker of Liberty University.” Most of what White says here, though, could be safely aired above the boards. Brother Jack is going to give ten reasons why James White is going to hell. James is going to tell Brother Jack – think of fruits of the spirit, or the fruit of faith – that engaging with him is like picking on low hanging fruit; he is ignorant; he has no capacity to handle the biblical text in a meaningful fashion. James doesn’t have to use invective, he can just go to the text. (Telling someone they’re ignorant is not invective but an incentive – to go back to school).
“James doesn’t know anything about God, he’s going to hell, he’s a deceived jerk, he doesn’t have the Son. Why? Because he said it’s (salvation) free but it will cost you your life,” says Jack.
James says “theology matters,” For Jack, James would say, theology natters. So, as long as you believe that Jesus saved you, it’s done. And don’t ever think of repenting of your sin, ’cause you’ll be working. For Jack the fat of faith does not need the lean of works. If, alas, salvation has nothing to do with works, then it can’t have anything to do with becoming holy. In such a sinario Jack would, for starters, have to drop the “good works” bit in Ephesians 2:8-10:
It is by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.(Ephesians 2:8-10).
I would imagine that Jack and James like each other, if for nothing else, for liking the whole passage above except the walk-the-talk bit: “that we should walk in them (works).” In Jack’s Gospel, says James, “you can get saved without the need to reflect God’s pattern of life.” James, you don’t understand. The pattern of life is nothing else but the life that God has stamped onto Jack’s soul when first he believed. Jack would say that a Christian does indeed reflect this pattern, because when he decides to give God a chance and believes, God transforms his murky soul into a glossy mirror.
Jack says James is “going to hell; we can’t do anything about it.” Hey, can’t I still pray that James will see the light? Jack, being a good Arminian, would say no because you can only see the light if you work your eyes in that direction, that is (will to) look at the light. And as we all know with James, where there’s a will there’s an OyVey. So? He’s going to hell. What if James repents and says that the “Gospel is indeed all about what God has done,” but part of this all is that “God has a purpose for us on earth, which is “accomplishing a body on earth.” Shut up; “he’s a lost cause…it does not say you have to repent of your sins. It says he who believes in the son is saved… He was never saved,” for, continues Jack, it is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (Hebrews 6:4-6).”
You can’t lose your salvation, says Jack; and so does James. But James, you never were saved in the first place “It’s impossible, to convert people who have been taught so much bible. White will never be saved. This guy’s got too much pride. Look at his face on Youtube; you can see he is full of pride. He’s going to hell and there’s nothing we can do about it. He doesn’t believe the gospel. He says you have to repent to be saved. He says you have to conform to Christ. He says you have to persevere, He says that we have a share in Christ only if we hold our original confidence firm to the end. He’s going to hell. Let’s move on.”
But Jack, says James, “you don’t serve God in order to be saved; what we are saying is when God saves his people, he changes their hearts and make them new creatures created for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). We recognise faith and repentance as a work of God. Becoming holy is not something we add to our faith. Sanctification is the outworking of our faith.” James, Jack might misunderstand you; rather say “sanctification is the outworming of our faith.” James – “But if I say that Jack’ll hit me with “where the worm never dies.”
Jack makes no distinction between “continual rebellion against God, an ongoing sin attitude and believers who sin and turn to God for mercy.” Jack is for “free grace” (the name of his church). As we know “grace” already means gratis, free. So what we have in Jack is “free free.” The second “free” we know; that’s “grace.” It’s not difficult to work out what the first “free” means; it means free of works such as repentance or any effort of conformity to Christian principles of behaviour, for when you behave you don’t only be saved but behave saved. Jack says that an unrepentant person who believes is going to heaven. Poor devils. This “free grace,” James calls “licentious grace.”
James relates how he once stood outside a Mormon Temple handing out the tract, “Grace plus works is dead” whose message was that the addition of merit (works) destroys grace. Another reason why James White is going to hell, says Jack, is because James said that that it doesn’t matter if believers are saved by grace. According to James, continues Jack, if you lie, you don’t even know what grace is.
“I have never said anything like that. I distinguished between John 1, he who is sinning (habitual action) and those who flee to the cross in repentance…Here is a man that says that faith merely punches your ticket, never makes anyone holy.”
James read my slips: John 3:36 says he that believeth on the son hath everlasting life. “This doesn’t mean that you have to repent of your sins.” Yes, James, believe; all you gotta do is believe; not behave; that’s work. John 6:47 is one of Jack’s favourites: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. “That’s one of my favourites, too,” says James. TV entertainment, and thus most people whose mother tongue is English know only three expletives: cool, awesome and oh my gaaaaad. A favourite of Arminians is “whosoever.” And John 6:47 provides a great occasion to use this word. James explains that the Greek means “the one believing” (look it up whosoever is not believing me); it does not mean that anyone who opens the door of his heart to God’s persistent knocking has eternal life. Follow the context back to John 6:37: All that the father gives me will come to me (believe in me) and no one else. Now, please don’t say that the father looks down the corridors of time, sees who is going to believe and consequently gives these prospective believers to the Son. But that’s for another day.
Jack – “White says ‘salvation will cost you everything.’ How can you accept a free gift if you’re trying to pay for it?”
James – “I have said it will cost you everything. I have never said that in the context of you make that down payment and God does the rest. What I have said is what Jesus said. If you want to follow me you must deny yourself take up the cross and follow me. We have to die with Christ. The old man has been crucified.”
Jack – “If someone comes to my door and wants to give me something that is free and I say no I want to pay for it, it is going to cost me everything. Can I receive the book? Absolutely not. You can’t receive faith that way because it is offered freely. John 4 freely. ‘If you knew the gift of God eternal life.’ What cost?… No it is not going to cost you your life, it cost Jesus his life. John 4 living water faith gift. If you think faith is not a gift you don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of you. You’ve got the spirit of world in you; You can’t add repentance to the Gospel; that’s a false Gospel.”
What about “repent and believe?”
Jack – “Jesus hangs on the cross and you think you are going to heaven for what you did, that is blasphemy. Calvinists say faith is a work. The only people that say that faith is a work are Calvinists.”
White – “Obviously what he (Jack) is talking about is that there are times when talking about the origin of faith, Arminians make faith something that comes forth from them as part of the ability of man, and (what Jack is against is that) it is one of the things man must do to gain God’s favour. We are not saying that saving faith is a work. We recognise that saving faith is the action, the natural action of the redeemed soul.” In other words, a Calvinist is free to accept Christ, but only after Christ has made you free.
“How can faith be work? persists Jack. Faith is opposite to deeds of the law. Why are they so lost and blind? Because God is not saving these people.” Hey, uno momento says James in English; “is God not trying to save me equally as Brother Jack?” Brother Jack that’s election,” calvinist talk.
Jack – “Calvinists! they’re like Hitler. Four footed beasts. The god of Calvinists is a beast. And that is why (that jerk) James White is going to hell.”
There is no biblical reason why Jack is not saved. One thing I do wonder about though, when he gets to heaven, what city will he rule over as his reward? Jerkville? Not to worry, Jack, James won’t be there, he’s been jerked around enough already.
The problem with Jack is “context.”
“[W]hen Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Rom 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Rom 1:5). James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18). In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning. If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined. (“Biblical Interpretation” by Craig Keener).
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes:
4 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body[a] in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister.[b] The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Preach from the Bible, not from a con-cordance.