Sanctification – Part 2

In the previous post we discussed the concept of sanctification and what that means in very general terms.  We discussed our definitive or positional sanctification that comes through our being placed in Christ.  We also looked at the concept of progressive sanctification – our growing in Christ, our being conformed to the image of Christ.

In this post, I wanted to look at how we are sanctified and briefly at what sanctification does not entail.

How are we Sanctified?

We must appreciate that just as no Christian is able to justify himself, no believer is able to sanctify himself either.  The New Testament makes clear that that it is the work of the Spirit in our lives that brings about growth, change and sanctification.  According to the II Corinthians 3:8, it is by the Spirit of the Lord that we “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”  The scripture speaks of our being sanctified by God in the truth and by his peace.  (John 17:17, I Thessalonians 5:23).

Nevertheless, the scripture is clear from Philippians 2:12-13 that we, as believers are not passive in the process of our sanctification.  It is God that is doing the work within us but we have the ability, by the same Spirit, to yield ourselves to him in obedience to his working within us.  It is “by the Spirit” that we “put to death the deeds of the body….”  (Romans 8:13).

What are the instruments utilized to bring about our sanctification?  These instrumentalities are often referred to us the means of grace.  These means of grace are the scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship with believers, service, ordinances and the providences of God which work together for the good in our lives.  Through these various instrumentalities, God is working to change us and grow us in our Christian lives and bring us into the likeness of his Son.

We are repeatedly admonished to be in the scriptures, in prayer, in fellowship with other believers and to take part in the Lord’s Supper and baptism as well as understand that God is working through all things to the good for those who are called to be conformed to the image of his Christ.

How are we Not Sanctified?

Just as our justification is derived from God, our sanctification is derived from him as well.  The believer cannot bring anything to the equation to add to his sanctification when the source of his sanctification is the Holy Spirit working within him.  Any holiness that might be ascribed to me is because God has placed me within Christ – God has separated me and God is continuing to work within me.  I have been sanctified, separated or made holy when God justified me and I continue to be made holy through the Spirit of Christ continuing to work within me.

Our involvement, as previously discussed, in sanctification is not merely a passive one but one in which we yield ourselves to the agent of change in our lives, the Holy Spirit working within us to bring us into conformity with the Son of God.  Christ is the image that we should seek to reflect and the pattern of life lived by Christ is the pattern we should seek to follow.  It should go without saying but we will repeat here that the law of God that we should seek to fulfill is love.  God is eminently concerned with the state of our hearts.  Jesus was not so concerned with external religious practices, such as failing to wash before eating, for these wouldn’t defile a man.  Jesus said that it was “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”  (Matthew 15:18-20).

John Piper once provided a definition for sanctification as “progressively becoming like Jesus.”  There is only one way in which we can gradually become more and more like Christ and that is by allowing the Spirit of Christ to work on us, by allowing the word of God cleanse and shape us, by fellowshipping with other Christ-like believers, and by finding Christ in the middle of our everyday situations.

We are not sanctified by following a set of guidelines or rules that man creates defining what you must do (or what you must refrain from) in order to be holy as God is holy.  Again this is another subject to lengthy to be covered here; nevertheless, we should touch on the fact that there are churches, such as the UPCI, that focus on what they call holiness standards or just “standards.”  The UPCI will teach that these standards are merely practical applications of biblical standards of holiness, modesty and separation from the world.  The UPCI Articles of Faith contains a number of position papers and the second longest paper among these articles is the article on the subject of Holiness.

Holiness is an imperative for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.  (Hebrews 12:14).  Yet when we begin to define holiness in terms of standards to be kept by the Christian man and woman we by necessity are focusing on the external.  We are focusing on actions rather than thoughts and intentions.  We are looking at external procedures rather than the heart.  It is common then for the UPCI member to begin thinking in terms of their “holiness” as being defined by how they look, their dress, their appearance.  This is certainly an area of dispute within the UPCI church more broadly with some within the organization being more liberal on this issue while others hold to the view that the UPCI as an organization should be more firmly dedicated to and defined by their holiness roots in terms of practical/external applications.

Holiness standards, in organizations like the UPCI, tend to focus on women not wearing make-up or jewelry of any kind, women not wearing pants, women having uncut hair, men keeping short hair and remaining clean shaven.  Modesty in dress is enforced through men and women wearing pants and skirts/dresses, respectively, of a proper modest length and not wearing short sleeves.  In many churches, prohibiting any form of “worldly” entertainment is enforced through the prohibiting of members having television sets, attending movies or other forms of entertainment.  Amusement parks and dancing, even at weddings, is frowned upon.  Prohibitions on alcohol are enforced as well.  The local church itself has some leeway in establishing its own standards that it wishes to enforce as rules.  It may enforce these rules by allowing or prohibiting involvement in church activities or ministries up to and including temporary/permanent excommunication from the church body for failure to abide by the standards set down by the leadership of the local church.

Holiness, from a Biblical perspective, means to be consecrated, purified, and sanctified.  To be in a state of holiness involves our being consecrated to God, purified by God and growing in the grace of God as a result of our placing our faith in Christ.  We have been justified (declared just through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ received by grace through faith) and we have been sanctified or consecrated (at the time of our justification in being set apart by God and declared holy), and we are in the process of being purified (through progressive sanctification or our growing into the likeness of Christ through the means of grace).  We are being conformed to the image of Christ by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us killing the sin that is at work in our hearts and bearing spiritual fruit, such as love, in our lives.  This is the wonderful picture of holiness.

When the UPCI begins to define holiness in terms of external dress codes, make-up, jewelry, the owning of a television set, and hair length it has moved into the realm of legalism and degraded the beautiful concept of the holiness of God into a set of man-made commandments.  There is no difference between the legalism of the UPCI and the legalism of the Pharisees in the days of Jesus.  Both rely on the God’s word but add to the scriptural concepts and definitions external activities and mandates that are to be kept in order to keep one within the grace of God – after all, without holiness (defined by the UPCI as both inward and external rule keeping), you will not see the Lord.  The criticism of the Pharisees was that they actually undid the scriptures and violated the law through their traditions.  Unfortunately, the UPCI may itself be undoing the grace of God by inserting and raising their traditions to level of inspired scripture.

Suffice it to say, for today, that our sanctification is through the Spirit of God working in us and through the means of grace in our lives.  Sanctification is not achieved through external rule keeping or dress codes.  To argue that the holiness you or I need is achieved or maintained through rule keeping is to cheapen and degrade the holiness of God to something like that of an idol.  If there is any aspect of holiness in us, it is attributable to the Spirit of Holiness that we have received by the grace of God.


Sanctification – Part 1

During the posts concerning justification, the subject of works came up frequently.  As I discussed, works are not something that ever brings about our justification before God (at least not our works – we are justified by the works of Christ, which we receive by grace through faith) but good works, spiritual fruit, good deeds and obedience are the natural product of a life that is in Christ – it is the natural outflow of a heart that is now indwelt by the Spirit.  We would be speaking now about sanctification.

When we speak of our being “saved” we typically think of a past act (I was saved), a current state of being saved (I am being saved) and our future salvation (I will be saved).  We can compare these past, present progressive and future states of our salvation with our justification (past), our sanctification (present progressive) and glorification (future).  I was justified when I placed my faith in Christ and repented of my sins.  I am now in process of being conformed to the image of Christ – I am being sanctified.  One day, I will be saved and that will happen when I am glorified – when I take off this mortality and put on immortality and will truly be like Christ.

Without overly complicating sanctification, it typically refers simply to our progressive growth in righteousness in Christ.  This flows out of our justification.  The believer is in Christ and is progressively being conformed to the image of Christ.  The heart, mind and will of the believer are being transformed by the Spirit to conform to the will of God.  It is the process of our Christian growth.  Justification is thought of as being a one-time definitive act on the part of God directed towards a believer.  There is an aspect of sanctification that may be viewed as a one-time act as well as that relates to our position in God.  Sanctification fundamentally means to be set apart, to be made holy.  When we are justified we are also set apart to God.  In this respect we have been sanctified from a positional/definitive perspective.

Positional/Definitive Sanctification

In a number of passages, Paul discusses sanctification from the perspective of a past occurrence that parallels the notion of justification and our regeneration.  When we are justified there is a break that occurs between the old man and the new man.  This is a result of the believer’s sanctification – he has been set apart.  There has been a legal declaration of our righteousness before God and we are, therefore, set apart.  In this respect we have been sanctified and we are undergoing the process of sanctification as well.

In Romans 6, Paul has much to say on this subject.  He has spent considerable time building the case of man’s need in his sinful state and the fact that man can find himself at peace with God by grace through faith in justification.  Our justification is that legal declaration of righteousness – the judgment due us for our sins has been handled through the cross and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.  So this may naturally lead one to question, should we continue in sin?  If grace abounds where sin abounds, why not continue in sin?

Paul answers that question with a question:  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  (Romans 6:2).  Paul makes it clear that living in the realm of sin means being a slave to sin.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”  (John 8:34).  John wrote, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (I John 3:9).

To live in the realm of sin is to continue in the practice of sinning.  This is not to say that all that have been placed in Christ will no longer commit a single act of sin for we are not yet perfected and remain trapped in our fallen bodies.  As Paul states, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  (Romans 7:24).  His point is that there is a war at work in him between his inner man and the sinful law that seeks to rule in his body.  Nevertheless, when we are sanctified and set apart in Christ there is a break that occurs – we are not freed from our fallen bodies and the temptations that come against us but we are no longer slaves such that we have no choice but to follow those temptations.  We no longer should continue in making it a practice to sin.  This begins with our changed state – as some might call our definitive sanctification.

A death to sin means that our old self has been crucified with Christ that we would no longer be slaves to sin but we are instead freed from sin and sin should no longer reign in our mortal bodies.  (Romans 6:6, 7, 12).  Sin is no longer our master that we must obey.  (Romans 6:14).  Instead, we are to present ourselves as instruments of righteousness and seek to be slaves to righteousness.  We are to be obedient from the heart to the gospel and all Christian teaching.  We are no longer to be slaves to sin but enslaved to God.  (Romans 6:13-14, 17, 19, 22).  Thus, this definitive sanctification does not mean that we are in fact sinless but that there has been a break with the power and dominion of sin over us because of our union with Christ.  John makes clear that if we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves.  (I John 1:8).  But Paul makes clear that sin should have no dominion or control over us.  (Romans 6:14).  Therefore, every believer should take seriously the change that has been wrought in his life and should stop sinning and instead render their bodies as instruments of righteousness.

The basis of our justification is the imputation of the obedience of Christ to us.  Likewise, the basis of one’s definitive sanctification is one’s spiritual union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.

Progressive Sanctification

With this radical change having been rendered in us as believers, the work of being conformed into the image of the Son of God can really begin.  While we have spoken of the definitive sanctification that took place when we repented and turned to God in faith, the process of sanctification (or progressive sanctification) can begin.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  (Philippians 2:12-13).

Paul wrote these words while exhorting the Philippians to live a holy, godly lifestyle following the example of Christ in humility and seeking to serve others first.  His speaking of our working out our salvation is in reference to the ongoing process of our being saved – our progressive sanctification.  It is simply our seeking to follow in the example that Christ left for us.  Paul continues that we should not be found grumbling or arguing but found to be blameless and innocent, children of God who are without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.  In this dark time, we should be lights holding fast to God’s word.

Our progressive sanctification involves “God who works in” us and our yielding to his working in us in putting off the characteristics of our old nature and putting on the characteristics of the new man after Christ.  (Colossians 3:8-10).  It is God working in us but it is not without our cooperation.  We are to undertake to put off the old ways and put on the new ways as a result of what God has done for us and in us.  We need to put to death the sins just as we have died to sin.  (Romans 6:6-7, Ephesians 4:27-5:33, Galatians 5:16-26, I Peter 2:1-2, Romans 12:1-2).  This is something that is always spoken of as being progressive – not something that happens like justification, where we are declared to be something.  This is spoken of as a process – we are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, we are being shaped and molded so that we will follow the will of God.

How are we in this process or by what means are we being shaped?  First, Peter quoted the admonition found in Leviticus that we should be holy for the Lord is holy.  (I Peter 1:15-16, Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2).  Because we have been recreated by the grace of God to God’s image in righteousness and holiness, we should pursue putting on the new man in God’s likeness.

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:22-24 that you are “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Similarly in Colossians he wrote, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self, with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”  (3:9-10).

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  (Romans 12:1-2).

There is an aspect of this conforming of us as believers that involves our assuming the ethical nature of God.  How we treat one another is a manifestation of our view of and obedience towards God.  These admonitions are always accompanied by exhortations around our treatment of one another.  The second of all commandments is that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves or as we would like to be loved.  This is born out of a transformation or renewal of our minds, our thinking, from a knowledge that we acquire of God through his word and in relationship with his Spirit living within our hearts.

While ethics is often focused on our relationships with one another, the moral law of God provides us with a greater understanding of God’s character and holiness, including his ethical demands.  The law of God provides us with an understanding of the moral will of God.  While the ceremonial laws were all fulfilled by Christ and we are not called to fulfill ceremonial laws under the Mosaic Law, we (as all men) are called to live according to the moral and ethical laws of God.  Our ability to live according to the moral and ethical laws of God is not possible when we follow after the old man and his desires but we are able to do so as we are empowered by the Spirit in us.  Christ came to condemn sin in the flesh “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”  (Romans 8:4-5).

There are various ways in which the law was intended to be used by God and two of those ways involved the law showing us our sin and our need and, thus, causing us to turn to Christ (Romans 3:20 – through the law comes the knowledge of sin; Galatians 3:24 – the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ) and to provide us with a pattern that we ought to follow with respect to our sanctification.

When speaking of the law of God, we are speaking primarily of the Ten Commandments.  Nowhere in the New Testament are the commandments abrogated as a basis for Christian ethics.  To the contrary, Paul calls the law holy, just, spiritual and good.  (Romans 7:12,14, 16).  Paul views the commandments as the revealed ethic of God and that the law is fulfilled when we love:  “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”  (Romans 13:8-10).

Jesus himself noted the greatest of all commandments was that we love God with all our hearts, soul and mind that the second being that we love our neighbors as ourselves – and that upon these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.  Each of the Ten Commandments appears to be referred to and invoked in some manner throughout the New Testament.

In the next post we will look at how it is that we are sanctified…what are the means of grace utilized to bring about our sanctification.

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.