A Stroll throught the UPCI Articles of Faith – Divine Healing

Divine Healing

This is the first (and possibly last) of posts that look to take a stroll through the United Pentecostal Church International’s (UPCI) Articles of Faith for comment.  The AoF on the subject of divine healing was one that I felt strongly should be addressed.  This is what the UPCI Articles of Faith have to say with respect to divine healing of the body:

The vicarious suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ paid not only for the salvation of our souls but also for the healing of our bodies. “With his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Matthew 8:17 reads, “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sickness.” (See also I Peter 2:24). We see from this that divine healing for the body is in the atonement. (emphasis added).

The emphasis on divine healing of the physical body based on this passage in Isaiah is not only a twisting of the passage but creates a doctrine of divine healing and expectation in the heart of individuals that is both unwarranted and dangerous in its consequences. This doctrine of divine healing puts the UPCI squarely in the camp of the traditional Word of Faith and charismatic movements with all of the negative results that follow.

Is it accurate to state that divine healing for the body is in the atonement?

The short answer is no.

One of the most amazing passages in all of scripture, Isaiah 53:4-6, 10-11, states:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. … Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

If we look at the context, it is quite clear that spiritual healing is what was obtained by Christ through the events leading up to and including his crucifixion. It was the relationship between sinful man and holy God that was healed through the atonement, not a specific promise of physical healing of sick bodies today.

The context defines man’s problem (and it is not physical sickness).  Man has “gone astray” and turned “to his own way”. We have “iniquity” and “guilt” before God that must be addressed. Therefore, the Lord laid on Christ “the iniquity of us all” and made his soul “an offering for guilt” and “he shall bear their iniquities” and cause “many to be accounted righteous” (justification).

What an amazing passage regarding Christ’s atoning work on the cross. But are we to read into this passage that his wounds are for are physical healing? That would be a mistake. Again, the context makes clear that his “wounds” were “for our transgressions” and “for our iniquities” and the “chastisement” has “brought us peace”. Peace with whom? Peace with the one from whom like sheep we have gone astray and turned to our own way – his atonement has brought us peace with God.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1.

But wait a minute, when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick with fever, healed other sick people and cast out demons, Matthew wrote that, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” (Matthew 8:17). Isn’t Matthew applying the Isaiah passage to divine healing of the body?

Well, let’s take a step back and look at the context and understand the mission of Christ. Did Christ come to heal and perform other miracles or did he come to make atonement for the sins of the people and fulfill Isaiah 53? He came to make atonement for people’s sins and everything needs to be viewed and understood within that context. The next chapter (9:5-6), Matthew records the healing of a paralytic and Jesus explains the purpose behind his miracles. “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he then said to the paralytic –’Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’”

Jesus was attempting to point to his authority to forgive sin and the mission upon which he was set. Jesus healed and performed miracles within the context of his mission as outlined in Isaiah 53 and that was to accomplish the atonement for sins and cause many to be counted righteous. His healing of the paralytic was not with the primary and sole purpose to make that man’s life easier but to point to who he was, his authority and his mission.

It is also worth noting that the invocation of this Isaiah passage in Matthew occurred long before the actual fulfillment of Isaiah 53 in terms of his sacrificial death and atonement. So how do we understand the purchase of our healing (as I have heard it described) on the cross when Matthew is using the passage prior to the atoning work of Christ on the cross being completed? Again, Matthew’s point is that the healings and miracles performed by Jesus pointed to his authority to forgive sins and authority to fulfill the mission that was laid before him, which was to reconcile us with God.

Peter confirms that Isaiah was pointing to our spiritual healing and being reconciled to God in the context of being healed by his wounds: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (I Peter 2:24-25).  How have we been healed according to Peter – we were like straying sheep but have not returned to the Shepherd of our souls.  This is not a promise of divine healing of our physical bodies being purchased within the atoning work of Christ on the cross.

Sickness, disease and death are the reality and consequences of sin having entered the world. While through the atonement Christ paid for the consequences of our sin, not all the benefits have yet to be realized. The position of the UPCI and other Word of Faith and charismatic movements is one of what is described as an over-realized eschatology. An over-realized eschatology is a system of belief that pulls too much of future promises into the present fallen and broken world. It is a belief that all of the benefits of heaven are not only available to us here on earth but that it is the will of God that all of heaven be fully realized here on earth. Thus, as there will be no sickness in heaven, if we have enough faith there should be no sickness among believers here on earth. This is the heart of the health and wealth gospel preached throughout the charismatic movement. But based on this reasoning, if the atonement purchased life and a glorified body, why does the movement not also preach that we should never physically die on this earth?

What does the NT say with respect to sickness/suffering?

This view of divine healing is not taught and certainly was not experienced among the New Testament church. It is not the view of scripture that faithful Christians should always experience perfect health. Despite our new state in Christ we continue to live in our fallen bodies, sin continues to reside and battle within us and we ultimately experience death. Nowhere is it taught that there is a reversal of these consequences in this current life on earth for the believer. To the contrary, there are examples of powerful, faithful Christians in the New Testament that struggled with physical maladies and were seemingly not healed in this life.

When Paul wrote to the Galatians about his “bodily ailment”, his “condition” – “You know it was because of bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and through my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 4:13-14). In II Corinthians 12:7-8 Paul wrote of his thorn in the flesh and how he asked God to remove the thorn three times but God simply replied that his grace was sufficient, for his strength was made perfect in weakness. Much has been debated and speculated concerning the subject of the thorn. Some argued that Paul was speaking of his opponents. Others seeing that he spoke of a thorn in the “flesh” believe that it was a bodily ailment that Paul suffered from – and possibly the same illness that Paul wrote the Galatians concerning. The point is that Paul – the great Apostle to the Gentiles – clearly suffered from some physical ailment in his life and it was not the will of God for that thorn to be removed.

In writing to the Philippians, Paul mentioned how Epaphroditus – his “brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” – was ill. “Indeed he was ill, near to death.” Philippians 2:25-7.

Timothy was encouraged to no longer drink water but to use a little wine “for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” I Timothy 5:23. Paul called Timothy his “true child in the faith”, yet he suffered from frequent ailments.

In II Timothy 4:20, Paul wrote of Trophimus who was ill and left behind at Miletus.

If we were to look at the Old Testament we will find that Elisha died from illness and what would the Word of Faith movement say concerning Job?

The New Testament makes frequent mention of the suffering of Christians – this suffering is tied to our spiritual growth but it also certainly means that physical suffering is whether through illness or persecution awaits the believer. Paul wrote to encourage the Corinthians to “not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

This hardly sounds like the message offered by those promising divine physical healing within the atonement.

What about other passages regarding healing?

In the Book of Acts we certainly have a number of examples of Peter and Paul praying for the sick and their miraculous recovery. Yet, as discussed above, there are many times that we encounter both Paul and his companions in the faith suffering with physical ailments. We know that Paul prayed for himself. Certainly he prayed for Timothy and his other fellow soldiers, yet it appears their illnesses were not miraculously removed. Was this something that was occurring with less frequency as time went on and the gospel spread and the church was becoming more established?

A passage in the Letter from James is frequently cited with respect to the divine healing being promised for sick who pray.  James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” (James 5:13-15).

Certainly, when one is sick, as whenever anyone is suffering, we are compelled to pray. It is interesting to note the connection between illness and sin in this particular passage and the confessing of faults to one another in the proceeding verses as well as suffering and persecution in the preceding verses. What seems to be contemplated here is spiritual weakness and not necessarily physical illness. The Greek term translated here as sick  is often used in reference to weakness or without strength, including being weak in faith. The entire context of this portion of James is truly addressing the suffering that comes through persecution. James speaks of the suffering and patience that believers must endure much like the prophets of old who spoke in the name of the Lord. He is encouraging believers to remain steadfast in the faith, much like Job. In verse 13, he speaks of those who are suffering to pray and those who are cheerful to sing praise – potentially all with the aim of deriving strength from the hope that Christ has placed within them.

Concerning the use of the Greek word here in James, it is also worth noting that there are three Greek words utilized in the New Testament that can be translated as healing. In the passage in James, the word is sozo, which emphasizes the healing of the entire man – soul, spirit and body – and the word is frequently associated with and translated as saved, rescued or delivered. Another word is therapeuo, from which we derive the word therapy, and this word is primarily translated as to cure through various means of healing. Finally, the third Greek word is iaomai and it is also usually translated as heal in the context of an instantaneous, miraculous healing.

The context and the Greek would seem to indicate that James is not truly focused on physical healing of illness, while it cannot be excluded from the meaning, but is instead focused on those who are spiritually weak as a result of persecution and suffering seeking out the elders of the church, those who are spiritually strong, for prayer and strength and encouragement. And if, in their spiritual weakness in enduring suffering, they have sinned, those sins can be forgiven them as well. James continues that we should confess our faults one to another and pray for one another that we may be healed – that we may be strengthened and restored in our relationship with God. As James, a few verses later writes, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20).

Understood in its context, this passage in James is more properly focused on strengthening those that are spiritually weak and enduring suffering and may have stumbled as a result. It is about bringing strength, forgiving sins and healing one’s spiritual relationship with God that would appear to be the thrust of James’ argument. It is not simply a magical promise that God will heal me physically if I just find a righteous person to pray over me with enough faith.

Can God heal? Absolutely. Should we pray for the sick? Always. Does God’s word promise us heaven on earth in the form of divine healing for our physical illnesses as guaranteed through the atonement? No.

What are the implications of this doctrine of divine healing in the atonement?

The implications of this doctrine of divine healing as purchased through the atonement are very dangerous. The doctrine provides false assurances and a false hope based on promises of things that are not provided for now. When the healing doesn’t come in the form in which the seeker asks, he naturally must ask why? Why is God not healing me of this sickness?

The first question that comes to mind is ‘maybe I lack faith.’ The faith preachers assert that you must have enough faith in order to both receive and maintain your healing. The excuse is given that God’s power to heal is always present but a lack of healing could be a result of a lack of faith on your part. It is also possible that we might have just enough faith to start the healing but if we don’t maintain that level of faith, sickness will creep back into our bodies, thus promoting a cycle of doubt and condemnation.

This is simply nonsense. When Jesus would inquire of people with respect to their faith, it was not on the basis of ‘do you have faith to receive?’ but do you have faith in God’s ability to heal.

Matthew 9:28-29: When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes Lord.” Then he touched their eyes saying, “According to your faith [in the ability of Jesus] be it done to you.”

The type of faith that Christ seeks is the one that simply believes and has confidence and trust in him and in his promises. Why would God require a greater level of faith to receive a healing than is somehow required in order for us to be saved? It has nothing to do with faith enough to receive but simply faith in God’s ability. When we make it about faith enough for us to receive, we make it all about us, what great levels of faith we can conjure up rather than about God. This gets to an error that exists with respect to the nature of faith – something we will need to address in another post.

A second question that comes to mind is, ‘maybe I’m not saved.’ This is a crushing message that places great distress on an already suffering individual. Why am I not healed? Is it because I’m not really saved? If the message is one of divine healing being purchased for me in the atonement, if I am not being healed, maybe I am still lost? Maybe the atonement is not really for me.  Maybe, relying on James 5, I have sin in my life causing this illness? Based on their interpretation of James 5, it seems only logical that one would question whether illness is a result of some secret sin in the life of the believer causing them to believe that they are not “right with God.” This leads to someone already dealing possibly with a serious illness to know begin to experience condemnation and to question God’s love for them and their very salvation.

When the message is that physical healing is so interwoven into the message of salvation, the logical consequence is the presence of sickness is a lack of salvation. When the loved one (a wife and mother or a child) is not healed of cancer despite prayers for their healing, the message of divine healing in the atonement leads to the inevitable question as to whether the atonement was really in effect in the loved one’s life in the first place. This is simply a lie and a perversion of the scripture that leads people to question both the truthfulness and goodness of God in their lives. Thus, we know the origin of this lie and it is not from a proper understanding of scripture but a torturing of promises of God.

Illness is never a reason to question your salvation. Illness is, unfortunately, a normal part of living in this broken and fallen world and being trapped in a fallen and broken physical body. We have the promise of healing – both a physical healing of our bodies with a new glorified body at the time of the resurrection and a physical healing of the physical world through the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. We continue to exist in a world subject to the curse and though we are new spiritual creations in God with a heavenly citizenship we remain living here on earth and continue to experience the brokenness of life here.

I have personally known people who lost loved ones to illness who firmly believed that God would heal their loved one – they did all they could to conjure up and maintain a level of faith that God not only could but that he would heal their loved one and created such a level of expectation as though that would somehow be the difference maker in that situation. And when they lost that loved one – as devastating as it was to lose a loved one so early, who left small children behind – their underlying faith in God was also so devastated that they seem to have walked away from the faith. Others I know have simply been plagued by physical issues for most of their adult lives and have questioned whether they simply don’t have enough faith to be healed or whether they are being punished by God for some sin in their lives.

The fact of the matter is that physical healing in this lifetime is not apparently always God’s will. When your foundational thinking is that physical healing is promised now to believers and that it was purchased in the atonement and you are not healed of some illness, the only logical result must be that it is somehow your fault.

This is a devastating and dangerous doctrine that is not based on the scripture and causes such spiritual harm in lives of people already suffering physically. They are suffering with illness and instead of being comforted with the reassuring words of the true promises that we have in scripture they are lead to question whether they have sufficient faith, whether they are being punished by God and whether they are actually saved by God in the first place.

While this doctrine is very prevalent in much of the charismatic world, it finds its way into the Oneness Pentecostal movement as well. In a movement that emphasizes physical manifestations of the Spirit’s work, this doctrine finds a natural home in the UPCI. In an organization that stresses man-centeredness and works, it is also natural that feelings of condemnation and judgment are often associated with illness and are only heightened when healing does not seem to immediately come.

I have heard a minister declare that when he became ill – he refused to accept it, he spoke against it (as thought speaking to remove the mountain), and eventually he was healed (I am sure with the help of doctor prescribed medications). Yet, the minister can’t read without his reading glasses. Not to sound disrespectful, but I wonder has he prayed concerning the imperfections of his eye sight.  Or maybe he just considered the poor eye sight as a function of getting older and a body that will eventually break down.




Faith and Works – Part 2

In continuing to look at the relationship between faith and works, I wanted to spend some time touching on the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and Oneness Pentecostalism problem as it relates to this subject.  The vast majority of Christendom holds to the view that we are justified by faith – we are saved by grace through faith, not by works that we do.  Baptism is viewed as an ordinance – something that is very important in the life of a believer but not something that causes, brings about or merits our salvation in any way.  We are baptized because we are saved, not in order to be saved.

The UPCI view is that until a person is baptized in the name of Jesus, their sins are not forgiven.  But how does this view stand up to the seemingly overwhelming scriptural evidence that our sins are forgiven (we are declared just or right and at peace with God) when we turn to God in faith – that we are justified by faith?

In his book, The New Birth, Bernard addresses the question of grace, faith and works.  He does provide a cursory summary of several primary passages on the subject of justification by faith referring to Habakkuk 2:4, Romans and Galatians and states the following:

The bottom line is this: no one can be justified by observing the law of Moses or by doing good works.  Instead, the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us.  Having established this, we must next determine what true faith in Christ is and how to have it.  (pages 35-6).

Bernard then cites to B.B. Warfield, “Justification by Faith does not mean, then, salvation by believing things instead of doing right.  It means pleading the merits of Christ before the throne of grace instead of our own merits.”  (citing from essay Justification by Faith, Out of Date?, Benjamin B. Warfield, 1911).  As we will see, Bernard is attempting to build the UPCI case in support of the idea that baptism and speaking in tongues are necessary to justification and completing the process of the new birth.

Bernard interestingly, citing to Warfield and the Reformed camp, seeks to argue that justification by faith does not mean just believing but also “doing right”.  Warfield’s point is not that the sinner must both believe and “do right” or be obedient in order to be justified as Bernard seems to allude.  Warfield argues that we are justified by works but not by any of our works.  Warfield writes, “It is justification by Christ’s works.”

Warfield cannot be any clearer in his meaning:

There is no justification for sinful men except by faith.  The works of sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built on them.  Where can he get works upon which he can found his hope of justification, except from Another? … Can God pronounce him righteous except on the ground of works that are righteous?  Where can a sinful man get works that are righteous?  Surely, not from himself; for, is he not a sinner, and all his works as sinful as he is?  He must go out of himself, then, to find works which he can offer to God as righteous.  And where will he find such works except in Christ?  Or how will he make them his own except by faith in Christ? … If we are to be justified at all, it must be on the ground of the merits of Another, whose merits can be made ours by faith.  And that is the reason why God sent his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.  If we do not believe in him, obviously we must perish.  But if we believe in him, we shall not perish but have everlasting life.  That is just Justification by Faith.  Justification by Faith is nothing other than obtaining everlasting life by believing in Christ.  (Emphasis added)

Bernard would argue that it is by faith and our obedience to baptism that brings about our remission of sins.  We should recall that Bernard and the UPCI are strongly in the Arminian camp and believers in the concept of prevenient grace.  Bernard does note that faith “is the means by which man accepts and receives God’s saving grace.”  (page 34).  Bernard acknowledges that faith is a gift from God as well and that no one would have faith in God unless God would grant it.

As far as faith is concerned, Bernard cites to Webster’s Dictionary, The Amplified Bible, and Vine’s An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words to provide some definitions of faith.  He also cites to Charles Erdman who described faith as meaning far more than a “mere asset to dogmas, or the repetition of a creed” but describes a relationship with Christ in which the believer will trust in and be obedient to Christ and that the love for Christ brings about a trust and obedience that will lead to purity and holiness and a life of unselfish service.  He cites theologian Donald Bloesch as presenting a definition of faith as “a radical commitment of the whole man to the living Christ, a commitment that entails knowledge, trust, and obedience.”  (page 41).

From this definition provided by Bloesch, Bernard seems to identify three components of saving faith as meaning more than simply mental knowledge or assent.  These key components Bernard identifies as knowledge, assent, and appropriation.

Clearly, to have faith one must have a certain degree of knowledge or understanding of what it is that one is being called to place their trust in and a certain degree of acceptance or assent to the truth.  I must have had an understanding of my sin and the state of my relationship to God, a degree of knowledge of the gospel, as well as an acceptance of those facts.  I must have understood my need and recognized God’s ability to meet that need and I must have accepted these things a true.  These concepts Bernard would associate with knowledge and assent.  Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Hearing the word of Christ brings life to faith God has put in our hearts and we respond to this new understanding in faith  to the word.

Bernard then comes to the third component of saving faith – appropriation.  “In other words, there must be a practical application of truth.  … Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, involves more than mentally acknowledging Him as the Savior.  We must appropriate this truth and make it the guiding principal of our lives.  We do this by obeying the gospel of Jesus, by identifying with Him….”  (page 42).  Appropriation, according to Bernard, is appropriating the gospel to my life by being baptized and receiving the Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues.

Bernard cites to a number of passages to support that true faith is accompanied by obedience.  As we have previously discussed, it would seem that according to both Paul and James that saving faith will bring about a change in our lives –we will live out that faith through obedience to the word of God and the evidence of spiritual fruit in our lives.  It would seem impossible that one who is truly grafted into the vine would not produce fruit as evidence of their relationship to God.

Here is where Bernard’s reasoning goes off the rails and flies in the face of his quote of Warfield at the beginning of this chapter.  The UPCI and Bernard don’t see obedience as something that naturally flows out of our being in Christ but as something that we must bring to the table in order to find our way into Christ.  Bernard sees an “essential link between obedience and salvation.”  (page 44).  Yes; saving faith produces obedience, good works, spiritual fruit in the life of a justified and sanctified believer.  But no; my justification is based on the perfect work, life and obedience of Christ and his death on the cross alone.  My obedience – however pathetic my attempts– are not the basis for my salvation.  My obedience flows out of my being in Christ and the Spirit of Christ being in me producing the changes in my life that flow out of the grace that I have received through faith.

Bernard repeatedly cites to passages such as, “If a man love me, he will keep my words.”  (John 14:23) to support the position that my obedience is the basis for my being accepted by God.  Yes; a true believer will keep his words but it was by the obedience of Christ that I stand justified before God.  If my obedience/works are the basis for my salvation, then I am in serious trouble.

Bernard states, “Someone who really believes God’s Word will obey it.  God’s Word teaches baptism, so the Bible believer will be baptized.  God’s Word promises the gift of the Spirit, so the true believer will expect, see, and receive this gift.”  (pages 45-46).  Further, he notes, “we are saved by grace through faith. We rely on God’s work and not our own works to bring salvation.  However, this does not relieve us of our responsibility to respond to God, to obey Him and to act upon our faith.”  (page 49).  Bernard’s statements are contradictory – according to him, our salvation is not based on our own works but we are responsible to obey him to bring about our salvation.

On the subject of faith and water baptism, Bernard states that faith in God will lead to water baptism.  With respect to repentance and water baptism, Bernard states that they “are not works in the sense of things man does to assist in earning his salvation, but they are saving works of God.”  (page 55).  “Saving faith expresses itself in our obedience to Christ’s gospel and by our identification with Him. … The gospel of Jesus Christ is His death, burial, and resurrection (I Corinthians 15:1-4).  We apply the gospel to our lives – we identify with Christ and His saving work – by repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  (emphasis in orig., page 61).

Saving faith manifests itself in obedience, among other ways, in the life of a believer.  Yet, because the gospel of the UPCI requires baptism in the name of Jesus to effectuate the remission of sins, they must justify this position in light of the clear teaching of scripture that our justification is by faith.  Implicit in the idea of true faith – being convinced of the promises of God and trusting in Christ and repenting of one’s sins – is the notion of bringing oneself into a state of obeying the gospel of Christ.

Obedience is no longer the evidence of a life in Christ.  My obedience is my faith leading to my justification.  An additional problem if obedience and faith are simply interchangeable, why just stop with baptism and speaking with other tongues.  Isn’t my entire Christian walk, my salvation continually held in a tenuous state dependent on my obedience, my works and deeds to keep me within the good graces of my God.  Bernard speaks of grace and faith and not our works but the works of God but in reality it always comes back to our working to bring about our salvation.  The dangerous aspect of this so-called gospel is that in the end, if one labors, he is paid what he deserves but we need to rely on faith in the work of Christ.

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.  Romans 4:4-5.


Faith and Works – Part 1

 Can that faith save him?  James 2:14

In speaking with a UPCI minister once about my newly discovered understanding of justification and sanctification in the scripture, particularly in looking at Romans 3 and 4, one of the immediate responses was, “but you can’t just ignore works….”

On the one hand, when you come from a legalistic mindset that emphasizes man’s performance and meriting the favor of God by doing certain things, it is only natural that you are going to feel that something is terribly wrong with the idea that God forgives me of my sins when I, in my repentant state, turn to God in faith.  Surely that can’t be all.  Yes and no.  Yes, that is all that it takes for God to declare me righteous.  It isn’t about anything that I have done or could do – it is all about what Christ did on the cross and, in his sovereign prerogative, he placed within me the gift of faith and granted me the opportunity to repent.  End of story – and the beginning of the story.

On the other hand, the New Testament does talk about works, obedience, good deeds, and spiritual fruit.  So how does this all fit together?

In Romans 3:38 Paul states, “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”  In James 2:24, James states, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”  How do we reconcile these two passages?  Are Paul and James simply contradicting one another?  This would seem contrary to our understanding of the divine inspiration of scripture.  Or should we simply look a little more closely at the context in which both men are writing and see if we can harmonize these passages?

Both James and Paul must be viewed in their context.  They are both addressing different issues relating to the subject of salvation but as we will see they are coming at that subject with very different points.

As we are already aware, Paul is addressing justification from the context of redemption.  We are at peace with God as a result of our being justified by grace through faith.  We are saved not as a result of our works or any law keeping but because of our faith in God.  One cannot work their way to heaven or merit God’s favor but the remission of sins is purely a gift of God through the grace of God.  Paul is addressing how it is one moves from being an unregenerate sinner into the church of God and it is through justification by faith.

As we look at the context of James, he is writing to the church and is addressing some very specific issues that he is seeing in the church.  He is not addressing justification from the standpoint of getting “into the church” but he is addressing those that claim to be a part of the church and having been justified by faith.  The problem that James is addressing is those who claim to be believers but that proclamation of faith yields no further fruit.  He addresses situations that he sees in the church that reflect a lack to true faith that would have led to justification in the first place.

James is drawing a line between those who have make an intellectual assent (a form of faith in that it is an intellectual acknowledgement of God) and those that possess true saving faith that results in spiritual fruit, such as obedience, in the life of a person that is truly trusting in Christ.

His point is that true saving faith results in a life of obedience to God – not that we live perfect lives and never make mistakes and fall – but there should be a manifest change in our lives if the Spirit of God is truly living in our hearts.

James writes of true religion being a faith in which professed believers are not merely hearers of the word but doers of the word.  To be a hearer of the word only is to deceive yourself for we must be doers of what we hear.  We must be obedient to the word of God in our lives.  James speaks of true and pure religion being that which produces fruit in the life of the believer.  It will change the way a man speaks and the things which concern man.  He will be concerned with the poor and seek to remain unstained from the world.  (James 1:19-27).  A man will not show partiality among the believers but will seek to fulfill the royal law, which is to love ones neighbors as oneself.  (James 2:1-9).

After showing that faith and religion should produce a change in the life of a professed believer, James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead.”  (James 2:14-17).

The point of James:  How can you say that you have true saving faith in your heart if your life and behavior does not demonstrate that faith with consistent works of faith?  Your behavior should reflect your profession of faith.  The answer to James’ question, “Can that faith save him?” is No.  A faith that is not accompanied by any fruit cannot be true faith.

“I will show you my faith by my works.”  (James 2:18).  Works – not in the legalistic sense of meriting anything from God or somehow earning God’s favor by our actions – demonstrate the faith that is in our hearts.  Our works reveal that faith that is within us and, thus, vindicates our profession of faith.  James points out that the devils believe in God and they shudder.  The point here isn’t that faith alone is insufficient to save because even the devils believe – the point being made by James is that the devils don’t have a faith that can restore their relationship and status with God because it does not and will not bring about a conformity on the part of the devil to the image of Christ.  Their faith does not produce obedience.  Their faith is not a saving faith.

John Calvin stated, “He says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works.  Hence we conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name.”  Thus, absent a demonstration of faith, there is truly no evidence that there ever was true faith to begin with.


James offers some examples and first cites to Abraham.  In verses 20-24 he states, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’ – and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.’

Certainly this is a challenging text but if one looks closely at what is being stated by James, we see this comports perfectly with the notion that we are focusing on the evidence of faith in one’s life justifying or vindicating their profession of faith, not resulting in their justification/salvation by works.

We know, according to Paul and a reading of Genesis 15, that it was when Abraham believed God that his faith was counted to him as righteousness.  Abraham was justified before God – he was declared righteous when he believed God.  It was before the performance of any works, including circumcision and years before even the birth of Isaac.  (See Romans 4:1-3).  Nevertheless, Abraham’s claim to faith was justified or vindicated in the sight of man when he obeyed God, left his country and his family, was circumcised, and even when he offered up Isaac on the altar in obedience to God.  When he was obedient to God, Abraham was demonstrating that his claim to faith was true and a reality.

When James cites to Abraham’s offering Isaac up on the altar, from Genesis 22, we know what Abraham had already believed God and was justified.  God was examining Abraham’s heart by asking for his obedience and through his obedience, Abraham’s faith was justified or vindicated.

Abraham’s obedience was not the grounds for his justification in the sense of salvation.  As James points out “and the scripture was fulfilled” – Abraham’s living out his faith through obedience was fulfilling or revealing that his profession of utter and complete faith in God was a true profession of faith.

Paul stresses that faith along brings about our justification but James shows that a faith that can save/justify us is one that will bring about evidence that faith is truly present in the heart.  James is stressing the expression of faith.  As James asked the question, “show me your faith apart from deeds” he looks to Abraham and says that Abraham’s profession of faith was demonstrably true – he was shown to be righteous – by his actions.


James cites to another Old Testament example in the prostitute, Rehab, of Jericho.  “And in the same way was not also Rehab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”  (James 2:25).

James compares the manner of Father Abraham’s justification with that of the prostitute Rehab.  Rehab hid and protected the two spies from Israel sent to spy out Jericho for its eventual destruction.  Abraham’s faith was revealed in his willingness to offer the son of promise, Isaac, on the alter.  Rehab’s faith was revealed in the fact that she hid the spies when the men of Jericho came looking for them.  This was a demonstration of the faith that was present within her.  It was as clear a demonstration of faith in God as Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac.  Hebrews 11:31 mentions Rehab as one of the heroes of faith and that it was her faith that motivated her actions in hiding the spies.

Afterwards, her words to the spies confirm the faith-based motivation of her actions:  “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  … And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.  Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”  (Joshua 2:9-13).


There is no contradiction between Paul and James on the subjects of faith and works.  To the contrary, Paul wrote many times on the subject of works or obedience or what he might call the fruit of the Spirit that results from a true profession of faith in God.  In Romans 1:5, Paul ties faith with obedience.

Paul wrote to the Philippians, “For 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.”  So we have been saved by grace through faith – it is not of our own doing and it is not the result of works so no one can be arrogant concerning their salvation.  In the very next sentence, Paul continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  (Philippians 2:8-10).

Paul further exhorted in Titus (2:7, 14, 3:1, 8, 14):

“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity….”

“…who gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work….”

“The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.  These things are excellent and profitable for people.”

“And lot our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

These are only a few examples from Paul out of Titus alone that stress the importance of living out our faith.  Other passages include:  2 Cor 9:8, Col 1:10, 2 Thess 1:11, 2:17, I Tim 2:10, 5:10, 5:25, 6:18, 2 Tim 2:21, 3:17.

Certainly, Jesus himself taught over and over the necessity of living out our faith and obedience.  Our justification by faith and call to good works are complementary and never in contradiction to one another so long as they are viewed in their proper context and in light of the larger understanding of the nature of man without Christ and with Christ.  As we have previously discussed, can one who is dead in his trespasses and in rebellion to God truly perform good works to somehow earn the forgiveness of sins.  Or is our obedience simply another outflow that results from the change that God has worked within in our hearts?  Paul and James would seem to agree that faith brings about an internal change that brings about an external change through a life lived demonstrating the faith that is now within us.

Thoughts on Justification – Part 6 – God’s Promises are Realized through Faith

God’s Promises are always realized through Faith

 Paul puts the proverbial bow on his teaching on justification with the concluding paragraphs of chapter 4 of Romans by stressing that the promises of God have always rested on faith and not on any works or adherence to law. 

 “For the promises to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”  (Romans 4:13).  As has been noted, the law of Moses certainly did not arrive on the scene for hundreds of years – so how could the promises, according to Paul, have come through the law or law keeping?  Was it other good works that brought about these promises to Abraham?  No.  Paul again makes clear that the promises rest on and are realized through faith.  Paul makes clear in verses 14-15 that if it rested on law keeping than faith matters nothing and, ultimately, the promises are all void.  The purpose of the law was to show us our need for God and to cause us to turn to him in faith. 

 “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law [the Jew] but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham [the Gentile and the entire world]….”  (Romans 4:16).  Paul looks to the covenant that God made with Abraham and within that covenant was a promise that he would be a father of many nations and that the nations would be blessed.  The promises that God made to Abraham and his seed [Christ] were that all the families of the earth were to be blessed.  It is pure legalism that Paul is fighting against when he is engaging those who claim that in order to be brought into the Christian faith and find acceptance with God one must first enter through certain old covenant keeping acts, such as circumcision.  Paul stresses that our acceptance with God depends on faith alone in order that all the promises of God may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all the world. 

 Our finding acceptance with God does not depend on our being baptized to bring about the forgiveness of our sins – particularly baptism in a particular mode of baptism.  Our acceptance with God and his forgiving our sins does not depend on keeping certain standards of dress or hair or how much you pray or give.   

 Our walk of faith is enough of a battle.  We do not need to lay additional legalistic burdens on ourselves that we are unlikely to be able to fulfill.  We have been given the Spirit of God in our hearts and are in the process of being conformed to the image of the Son.  Paul described it as being a new man with new desires yet trapped or incarcerated in this fallen, broken humanity waiting the ultimate fulfillment of his release.  We have received great promises and the earnest of those promises is the Spirit in our lives.   Our citizenship is in heaven yet we remain in this fallen world where there is sickness and death.  We are in a battle of faith.

 But, with Abraham as our example, Paul notes that he struggled in his battle of faith.  There was no unbelief present in Abraham concerning the promises of God but a struggle in his desire to see those promises fulfilled in his life.  God, while not always fulfilling all of those promises immediately, was always granting to Abraham that which he needed so that his faith would grow stronger and stronger in the promises so that even at death, when all of the promises were not fulfilled, Abraham could pass those promises to Isaac and then from Isaac to Jacob.  Faith is not something that we are given by God in order to somehow supernaturally change our present circumstances – biblical faith is being fully convinced that God is able to perform what he has promised.  Abraham was the father of those who had faith – the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11 were those who did not receive the promises yet remained unmovable in their being convinced that God was able and would fulfill the promises that he made.

 Thus, we wait for certain promises – we have faith.  Paul states that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’”  (Romans 4:21). 

 “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  (Romans 4:23-25).
Continue reading "Thoughts on Justification – Part 6 – God’s Promises are Realized through Faith"

Thoughts on Justification – Part 5 – Faith Alone

Abraham and David – Faith Alone

In the last post we took a very cursory look at the subject of justification.  Dr. James White, in his book The God who Justifies, wrote, “To be justified means to be declared right with God by virtue of the remission of sins accomplished by Jesus:  Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer, and the believer’s sins are imputed to Christ, who bears them in His body on the tree.  Justification is from beginning to end a divine action, based upon the mercy of God the Father and the work of Jesus Christ the Son.”

The dreadful problem with man is that all have sinned and the wages of sin is death.  Nevertheless, Paul wrote that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.”  Romans 3:23-25.  God justifies the repentant believer and it is through faith alone that this is accomplished.  It is not through faith and baptism or any other obedient work that you or I might bring before God to appease his wrath or satisfy some criteria for salvation.  As Dr. White noted, “To make any action of man (including the action of faith) the basis of justification is to take away from the righteousness of Christ, which is the true basis of Christian justification.”

Paul was abundantly clear that because justification is through faith, man is in no position to boast of his works or perceived obedience to the commands of God to merit his right standing with God:

Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  By what kind of law?  By a law of works?  No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  Or is God the God of the Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one – who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we overthrow the law by this faith?  By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.  Romans 3:27-31

Paul then provides an example from all the way back in Genesis 15:6 to support his understanding of the gospel and this verse of scripture will find itself repeated throughout the New Testament.

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather 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 counted to him as righteousness.”  Romans 4:1-4.

Paul is looking at one of the most central points of redemptive history, which was the call of and promised to Abraham and Abraham’s believing God.  The scripture says that when Abraham believed God, righteousness was reckoned or imputed to him.  To be ‘counted to him’ comes from a Greek word that holds the meaning of crediting to one’s account just as an accountant might enter an amount in an accounting book.  Abraham’s faith resulted in God crediting to him righteousness.  Paul then continues to use an example of laborers:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness….  Romans 4:4-5.

Here again we find that the idea of grace is the unmerited favor and help of God.  It is a gift.  “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”  Romans 11:6. Paul makes the contrast between the one who labors under agreement – this laborer is paid according to the agreement upon the fulfilling of his obligations.  The employer does not pay him as a favor but pays him what he is due under the terms of the agreement.  As sinners under the law of God we are deserving of death.  If we attempt to live under the terms of the Mosaic law we will find that it only increases our awareness of our sin and need for a savior for no one is going to be justified under the law.  Instead, we find that God justifies not on the basis of some obligation that is owed to us as sinners.  Our justification is not based on the individual’s personal righteousness or anything that they may do in an attempt to merit or earn salvation.  Our justification is based on the legal crediting of the righteousness of Christ to our account on the basis of faith along – on believing in him who justifies the ungodly – his faith is counted as righteousness.  Romans 4:4-5.

The sinner does not make himself righteous through any series of acts that leads up to his justification or the forgiveness of sins.  God credits the sinner with the righteousness of Christ when the sinner is still in his ungodly state.  God credits the person as just because of the obedience of Christ being credited to him – not because the sinner is somehow capable of being obedient enough to merit on his own the remission of his sins.

Paul then quoted from David, stating that he also spoke of “the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” when he who wrote, “Blessed are those who lawless deeds are forgiven, who sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”  Romans 4:6-8.

From these passages we can see a couple of points – first, Christ is the one who satisfies all the demands of God’s justice against the law break through his work on the cross.  His death was the propitiation that satisfied the wrath of God and results in the remission of our sins.  Second, the requirements of perfect obedience to the law were satisfied in the life of Christ and his perfect life of obedience and righteousness is credited to us.  In the cross we can see both God’s justice as well as his grace.  When Paul speaks of no one being able to boast, the message is that it would be pure folly and arrogance on the part of man to assert that through his actions he did anything to bring about the remission of his sins.  Man is not saved through faith and anything else.  It is by faith alone.

If the point wasn’t made strongly enough, Paul continues by delivering a devastating blow to the Judaizers of his day:

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised?  For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.  How then was it counted to him?  Was it before or after he had been circumcised?  It was not after, but before he was circumcised.  He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.  Romans 4:9-12.

To drive home the point, Paul notes that Abraham was not circumcised at the time God declared him righteous.  It was by faith alone and not as a result of circumcision, law keeping or any other meritorious act on Abraham’s part.  The sign of circumcision was not going to be given for another decade and the law of Moses did not come for hundreds of years.  Justification by grace through faith has been the means of our right standing with God throughout redemptive history – in this respect nothing has changed.

It is interesting to note that David Bernard notes strongly the necessity of baptism and stresses Paul’s comparison of baptism to circumcision in the Old Testament.  Relying on Colossians 2, Bernard writes, “Water baptism is a spiritual circumcision that separates from sins, cuts away the control of the sinful nature, and results in forgiveness of sins. … Without circumcision an Israelite male was not part of God’s people; he was subject to the penalty of death and could not participate in God’s salvation plan.”  (The New Birth, pages 135-6).

The passage in the second chapter of Colossians is worth looking at another time but for now, suffice it to say that the passage does not quite state what Bernard is asserting.  Further, in typical UPCI style, how can Bernard reconcile his interpretation of Paul’s writing to the Colossians with Paul’s teaching in Romans.  Bernard is associating water baptism with both Old Testament circumcision and resulting in the forgiveness of sins.  Yet Paul very clearly teaches, as the passages in Genesis also make abundantly clear that Abraham was justified by faith before he was ever circumcised.  Circumcision came a decade later and was a sign that was associated with the covenant that God had previously made with Abraham.  It was a covenantal sign that God gave to Abraham to provide assurance that God’s promises were true and would be fulfilled.

Paul describes circumcision as a “sign” and “as a seal of the righteousness that [Abraham] had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” (Romans 4:11).  This is precisely what baptism is for us today – it is a sign that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ; it is a public confession of a faith that already exists in our lives.  How is this work accomplished in our lives – we are “raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God….”  (Colossians 2:12).

Believers are baptized because they are saved and not in order to bring about their salvation.  The examples Abraham and the writing of David make clear that one is justified or has their sins forgiven by grace through faith.  When you encounter passages that seem to contradict each other, instead of simply disregarding one and stressing the other that better fits your soteriology, it is best to harmonize those passages.  It tends to be the approach of the UPCI to do the former – to stress particular passages at the expense of large portions of other teaching.  This leads to a twisted, proof-text approach to the gospel rather than a true and deeper understanding of the message of scripture for us today.  This will then lead to other issues as a distorted approach to the gospel will lead to distorted views in other areas of our Christian life as well.

Thoughts on Justification – Part 4

The Just Shall Live By Faith – Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:20, 3:11-12, Hebrews 10:38

Once we have an appreciation for the scriptural understanding of man’s state outside of God – that state being one of spiritual death – one can begin to appreciate that to bring about a change requires not the dead to do anything in particular, for the dead can do nothing, but requires the giver of life to take action.  The UPCI would have the general view of Jesus standing at the door and knocking at the sinner’s heart waiting for the sinner to open the door (a twisted view of Revelation 3:20).  Instead, the picture of salvation is best portrayed by the dead Lazarus in the tomb for four days only to be raised and called out by Jesus.  Lazarus would have stayed in his natural state of death had Jesus not intervened.  In that state of death, Lazarus was powerless to do anything of his own accord.  It was only when the call came to him that life came back into his dead body and he was then empowered to walk and be loosed, to eat and fellowship with his family and friends again.

Sinners are in a state of spiritual death and are powerless on their own to free themselves from their state of death.  Paul makes clear that in this state, sinners are the enemies of God, they will not submit to the will of God and are incapable of doing so (see Romans 7, 8).  Yet, the UPCI would teach that a sinner is not born again unless he repents, and is baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in other tongues.  So the spiritually dead – the one who the scripture teaches is incapable of submitting to the will of God and is in rebellion to God – must of his own accord submit to baptism and speak in tongues in order to be brought to a state of spiritual life and peace with God.

What is justification?

We know that the result of justification is our having peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have obtained access by faith into this grace, which brings about our rejoicing in the hope that we have of the glory of God.  (Romans 5:1-20).  Note – the peace that we now have because of our justification stands in contrast to the previous state of our relationship with God as sinners – that being under his wrath, as discussed in the first several chapters of Romans.  Therefore, it is imperative that we understand what it means to be justified.

First, the scripture makes clear that justification is something that is solely an act of God alone – it is something that God brings about and not something we do or contribute to in some way:

…So that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Romans 4:5).

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33).

What does to be justified mean?

Justification is a judicial or legal proclamation about a person’s relationship to God.  Justification does not necessarily change the person but is a change in the person’s status.  Louis Berkhof noted that justification is a judicial act of God, in which he declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner.  It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification.

Thus, justification is a legal declaration by God concerning my status in respect to my relationship with him.  It is not causing me to become righteous or holy in an ethical sense or necessarily changing my inner man but a declaration of my being new status in Christ – I have been declared to be righteous as I have been put into Christ.

Justification as meaning a legal or judicial declaration is shown in a number of passages as well as within the Old Testament.  Deuteronomy 25:1 and Proverbs 17:15 demonstrate the legal nature of justification with its standing in contrast to condemnation.  To condemn does not mean to make one a sinner – but it is a declaration of one’s state of wickedness.  Thus, to justify does not necessarily make one just or righteous but it is a statement or declaration of their state of righteousness in the eyes of God.

How are we justified?

The passage stated above – Romans 5:1-2 – alludes to the fact that this occurs by grace accessed through faith.

The righteousness of God is access through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:22).  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, further, we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25).

Justification is received because of God’s grace, which is an unmerited undeserved gift from God.  How does one have access to this grace?  It is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  Grace must be an unmerited gift from God.  As Paul makes clear, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).  If we inject works or our efforts into the idea of meriting God’s favor or bringing about our justification, it is no longer on the basis of grace.  Grace and works or man’s effort are mutually exclusive when it comes to our justification and being at peace with God.  We bring nothing to the equation other than faith and repentance.

Faith and Repentance

As a side note on faith and repentance, it should also be understood that faith and repentance can be described as opposite sides of the same coin.  In our turning to God (faith) we are turning away from the world and our sins (repentance).  Paul makes clear in Acts 10:21 that faith and repentance are inseparable.  You cannot say that you have genuine faith without genuine repentance and vice versa.  Repentance is a change of one’s mind – it is a recognition that one’s righteousness is as filthy rags and that his only hope is in God’s mercy.  Out of this change of mind a person confesses his sin and turns away from those things and to God.  The proof of a repentant heart is the action that flows out of his changed mind and attitude.  To say that faith and repentance is now something that man brings to the table is also a misunderstanding of the scripture and giving credit where it does not belong – the spiritually dead man.

Scripture seems rather clear that both repentance and faith are gifts from God to man.  In numerous passages, faith is seen as being a gift from God to man – that man’s ability to believe, his faith, is a direct result of God’s sovereign activity in opening man’s heart to have the ability to respond.  Ephesians 2:8 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  The “and that not of yourselves” is most likely modifying the idea of “faith” – that is that faith is not of ourselves but it is the gift of God.  Philippians 1:29 shows that God has granted us two things for Christ’s sake – both faith and our call to suffer for him.

Multiple places in Acts demonstrates that God is the source of faith:  Acts 13:48, 16:14 and 18:27.

Similarly, repentance is something that God has granted to people – Acts 5:31, 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.

Back to Justification

In addition to instructing us that justification is an act that occurs as a result of grace through faith, Paul shows us that Jesus was put forward as a propitiation by his blood.  To propitiate is to satisfy.  In order for God to be both just and the justifier, this punishment for sin needed to be satisfied.  His wrath needed to be mollified.  This occurred with Jesus’ death upon the cross.  The wrath of God for those who would believe was satisfied in that it was poured out upon Christ, the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, so that those who believe could have the perfect life and righteousness of Christ imputed to them.  This is known as the Great Exchange.  Upon Christ was poured out the wrath and judgment that I deserved and I have been put in Christ so that his righteousness and perfect life is imputed to me and I can now be peace with God and rejoice for the hope that is within me.

Some other passages:

And you were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.   But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christby grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For 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.  Ephesians 2:1-9.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:3-7


So what pattern should we be seeing here with respect to how we come to be at peace with God?  We are at peace with God by our justification.  Justification is an act by which God, through his sovereign prerogative, undertakes to declare the repentant believer to be just and righteous.  Not a righteousness based on his own life obviously but the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer and his sins are removed.  The wrath of God has been satisfied as it was poured out on Christ in our stead.  God receives all the glory for there is nothing that we as rebellious sinners could have done in order to ever merit or earn God’s favor through our good works to satisfy the judgment and wrath that was upon us.  It is sole based on the perfect and complete work of Christ on the cross.  You and I bring nothing to the table but the faith and repentance that God has granted to us.  Through that faith we have access to God’s grace.  We bring nothing else.  We do not bring money, we do not bring good deeds, we do not bring baptism or speaking in tongues or any other work to somehow merit or appropriate to ourselves the salvation that was purchased for us on the cross.

Paul continues his explanation on justification through faith with a couple of examples in chapter four of Romans, which we will look at next time.

Thoughts on Justification – Understanding Man’s Condition and Need – Part 3

Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism

As has been previously discussed, the UPC and OP holds a very diminished view on the sinfulness of man and how this translates into his inability to do good as defined by God.  In other words, the UPC holds man up with a much higher regard than scripture would otherwise seem to permit.  Let’s take a look at the UPCI and OP view of man in light of the controversies with respect to Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.

Pelagius was a monk who lived during the late 4th century and early 5th century.  He taught that man was born innocent and free from the original sin of Adam.  His view, known as Pelagianism, taught that man had the ability on his own to fulfill the commandments of God.  Thus, man through his own free-will has the ability to choose between good and evil without the assistance of the Holy Spirit and that man has the free-will ability to choose God.  The grace of God aids individuals in coming to God.  Pelagianism was thoroughly condemned by councils throughout church history as not representing faithfully the scriptures.

While Pelagianism was condemned, a weaker form of this view continues and is referred to as Semi-Pelagianism.  Semi-Pelagianism affirmed the idea of original sin and its harmful effects on man and his will but it continues to hold that essentially man is not really all that bad.  Man has the ability on his own to initiate belief in God and the view holds that God’s grace is a response to man’s taking the first step towards God.  Man makes the first move towards God by seeking God out of his own free-will and then God responds by extending grace to man.  Further, man must cooperate with God’s grace through maintaining his own faith through his own human efforts.

Along this continuum we also find Arminianism.  Arminianism is closer to Calvinism than the Semi-Pelagian perspective and Arminianism will hold that the first steps of grace are taken by God and not as a result of God responding to man’s steps toward him.

Yet, when Bernard makes statements such as, “When we submit to water baptism according to God’s plan, God honors our obedient faith and remits our sin.”  (Emphasis mine. The New Birth, pg. 131) this sounds quite a bit more like man taking obedient steps towards God and then God extending grace to man in remitting his sins.

As has been previously discussed, the scripture is rather abundant in its assertions with respect to the state of unregenerate man without God and the means by which man finds himself in relationship with God.

Ephesians 2:1-3 teaches us that man’s natural state is dead in trespasses and sin.

The wrath of God is presently being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  Sinful man is currently under the wrath of God.  Sinful man is actively involved in suppressing the truth.  They know God but refuse honor God or give him thanks.  God has given man over to the lusts of his heart and to impurities.  He gave man over to his dishonorable passions.  As man refuses to even acknowledge God, God has given them over to a debased mind.  Not only do they know that their acts are wrong, they continue in them and take pleasure in those who practice such evil things.  (Romans 1).  Man is free and he is free to do as he will – but his will is only to do evil.  He is constrained by his sinful nature.

Quoting a series of passage from Psalms, Paul reiterates that all are under sin:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

No one understands;

No one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

No one does good,

Not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave;

They use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood

In their paths are ruin and misery,

And the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

There is none that is righteous, no one understands and no one seeks God.  No one does good.  There is no fear of God.

Romans 7:18 – For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  Even as Christian, Paul understood that in his flesh he completely lacks the ability to carry out good works.

Romans 8:7 teaches that those who are in the flesh are hostile to God and not only don’t but are incapable of submitting to God.

Yet, the UPC holds a view of salvation in which man in this state of spiritual deadness must act in a manner that appears completely contrary to his abilities and be obedient to the faith in order for God to extend his grace him.

Matthew 12:34 – You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

John 6:44, 65 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him on the last day. … And he said, this is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father.

This view that creates dependence on man to bring about his own salvation through his conjuring up sufficient faith and obedience to God is a view that is dangerous on many fronts.  The UPCI view seems closer to that of Semi-Pelagianism than simple Arminianism as it stresses man’s obedience in bringing about his salvation.  Any view that emphasizes man’s performance in justifying his position with God is a dangerous and tenuous one.

When man’s actions are the basis for our judging our status with God, man will typically fall into one of two positions.  First, the man, lacking a proper understanding of grace and recognizing his inability on his own to measure up to the standard of God will continually live in a state of being subject to condemnation and feeling that his salvation is tenuous at best.  Second, the man who feels that he is performing pretty good may well be deluded into thinking he has something to offer God – he will be presenting a self-righteousness and not the standing before God with the righteousness of Christ.

The UPCI makes salvation a very performance based process – it is dependent on your repentance, your baptism and your receiving the Holy Spirit as evidence by the physical/spiritual performance of speaking in unknown tongues.  This performance based mentality continues throughout the life of the Christian and is then marked by adherence to holiness standards, dress codes, refraining from any and all activities deemed worldly by the church and an emphasis on spiritually based activities.  While the Christian should put off the works of the flesh and produce the fruit of the Spirit in their lives, the UPCI emphasis tends to focus heavily on performance of or refraining from certain activities and conformity to the standards of the organization.  Outward manifestations do not always reflect inward changes – sometimes they are actions reflecting a desire to be acceptable to God or simply obedience to the local ministry.

Rather the scripture provides a liberating and freeing message reflecting my utter need and dependence on God.  God has provided everything to bring about my salvation and to keep me through until the end.  I have confidence in God and what he has done for me and he creates within me the desire to good and obedient works. It is not out of a sense of needing to appease my God but of thankfulness and the changed nature that he has brought about in me.  I appreciate that many in the UPCI share this sense but it would be in spite of the teaching that they receive.