Monday, January 23, 2012

On Works

I was surfing the web tonight, and I found myself confronted by this statement:

"Justification by faith alone through Grace alone in Christ alone" 

I was reading an article on Christianity Today.  In context, they were discussing Jesus vs. Religion, and how Jesus wasn't anti-religion. I don't want to get deep into THAT here, but it led me to look at that statement a little more deeply.

Taken on its own, without any particular context, it seems to imply that works don't necessarily have to enter into the equation.  That we can lead a life that doesn't _require_ good works, and still be saved.

In Romans 3, Paul states "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."   But in James 2, James says "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." 

Hopefully you see my conundrum.  Justified by faith alone?  Justified by works AND faith?

Calvin addresses this issue like so:

It appears certain that [James] is speaking of the manifestation, not of the imputation of righteousness, as if he had said, Those who are justified by faith prove their justification by obedience and good works, not by a bare and imaginary semblance of faith. In one word, he is not discussing the mode of justification, but requiring that the justification of all believers shall be operative. And as Paul contends that men are justified without the aid of works, so James will not allow any to be regarded as Justified who are destitute of good works ... Let them twist the words of James as they may, they will never extract out of them more than two propositions: That an empty phantom of faith does not justify, and that the believer, not contented with such an imagination, manifests his justification by good works. [Henry Beveridge, trans., John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3:17:12 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966 reprint), 2: 115.]

Even after reading that, it still seems a little hinky to me.  Yes, I said hinky.

In my own life, I find myself doing good works out of a sense of love and gratitude.  I love God, I am grateful for His Grace, and I do good works out of a sense of love, and not duty.  

Are my good works necessarily a direct manifestation of my justification? A proof of it?  Yes, I've been changed by my faith, and I certainly have a new outlook on life, but are my good works a result of my justification?  It almost implies that I have no choice in the matter.  

Let's stay away from predestination.

So, do works follow justification? Must they?  Certainly a life that is led by the idea that we are justified by faith, through grace, and in Jesus will likely manifest good works.  But is it possible that someone who has true faith could live a life without good works?

Upon reflection, it seems like James is warning against 'passive' faith leading to 'luke warm' Christians who never do good works.  But does the lack of good works or the measure of one's good works imply a lack of true faith?  Can faith be measured in any way that's not binary? You have it or you don't? 

I admit that I'm a sinner, and broken, and sometimes I have doubts. I hope that doesn't mean that my faith-o-meter is showing that during those moments, my faith is at zero.

I worry that by looking at James 2, people with an active faith may feel like they need to justify their justification by their volume of good works. That seems like a gateway to belief in justification by works alone.

Instead, as I noted before, I'd choose to live in such a way that my good works are done through love and gratitude.  That good works shouldn't be measured to justify justification, and don't necessarily come as a result of faith, but that instead, by aligning myself with God, I do good works because I love him with all my heart.  And yeah, they do come about as a result of my faith.  And so, faith leads to good works.

Upon further reflection, it seems clear that James is arguing for an active faith, one that results in good works, and that shows a clear change in behavior and goals.  

"Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (1:22); for "faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (2:17).

Without such a change, faith is of no use.