Sunday, April 26, 2009

Faith and Works

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Genesis 6:5-8 [NASU]

[But Noah found favor (grace)]

Looking at Noah’s ancestors, we are inclined to believe Noah was called of God early in life; initiated into the worship of his Creator; delighted in His word and was dedicated to His service. We further believe his mind was set and his ears attentive to the voice of the Lord, not being influenced by the nay sayers, the religious, the self righteous, and never tossed about by “every wind of doctrine,” or lured by lust into the things of the world. Noah had a constant and certain confidence and trust in God’s love and in His ability and power to order and sustain all things. Therefore in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation Noah had “set his mind” to walk with the One who had called him to righteousness, hence he found grace in the “eyes of the Lord” and over came the world through faith (1st John 5:4).

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Hebrews 11:7 [NASU]

Because of God’s love for mankind, He had mercy; and mercy brought forth the favor of God to warn Noah about the impending flood that would destroy all flesh. Noah, not out of fear of death, but out of fear (reverence) of God, never doubting, obeyed Him in all that He commanded him to do.

By grace through faith Noah became the heir of righteousness. But what is faith? Now I know most of you will quote Hebrews 11:1 and say to me, that is faith; but what constitutes faith? And, where does one get faith? As we examine the Scriptures we find that God spoke with Noah warning him of things to come. Now Noah, having a loving, trusting relationship with God, believed God and began to do the things God commanded him to do (Genesis 6:22).

Now let us imagine if Noah had heard God but did not do the things God commanded him to do in a timely manner. I highly suspect that Noah would have perished with the rest of the world. Although it does not seem possible to love God apart from obedience, nevertheless we conclude that just loving, hearing and believing God does not totally constitute faith. Faith must include obedience!! Is not obedience an expression of love for God? But isn’t obedience works? Yes, of course it is. But works alone did not justify Noah; his love, believing and obedience to the words spoken to him by God---faith, justified him.

And then there is Abraham, living in Mesopotamia in his father’s house serving other gods (Joshua 24:2) and God spoke to him (Acts 7:2). Unlike Noah, Abraham was not in a relationship with God when He called him. Because of God’s love for mankind He had mercy and choose Abraham to be a father of faith. When God spoke to Abraham, His word made alive the ears of Abraham and caused him to hear; effecting faith in him (Romans 10:17). When Abraham heard God, he believed; this was God’s gracious gift to Abraham.

Again let us just imagine if Abraham had heard God and believed but said to God, “I believe you God but I think I will stay here in Ur.” Would Abraham have received the blessings that God promised Him? Of course not!! He had to obey God’s commands. Then we conclude from the Scriptures that Abraham heard God, believed, and because God first loved him, he loved God in returned and expressed that love through obedience; thus his faith was perfected (James 2:22).

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8 [NASU]

The Holy Scriptures teach us that both Noah and Abraham were men of faith. Now for the answer to our question, we examine what these two men have in common. Both were chosen of God; heard, believed, and obeyed Him. And because God first loved them, they both loved God; thus effecting faith in their hearts. Therefore we conclude that the foundation of faith is the love of God in the heart of man, the corner stone is the word of God believed, and the completion of faith is obedience. Now we have the answer to what constitutes or establishes faith: hearing God (Romans 10:17), believing and obeying Him from a heart of love.

Jesus said,

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

John 14:15 [NASU]

Would not keeping our Lord’s commandments be works of faith through love? Sure, I agree, it is by grace through faith that a person is saved and not of works, but isn’t God’s favor granted to those who when God calls, motivated by love, they obey Him? Noah and Abraham both were justified and saved by grace through their obedience to God’s purpose in calling them.

Many have written that the Apostles Paul and James were in disagreement concerning works. I contend that both Apostles were taught and led by the same Spirit and they did not disagree on anything. Men, trying to understand God’s Holy word by the intellect, have grossly misunderstood the messages of these two men.

Paul states that works does not justify man; and he of course is right. Now we confess and agree with Paul, there is no way man can work his way into salvation by obedience to the Law or any other works of the flesh; it is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that one is saved. And the Apostle James says that works justifies man (James 2:21), and of course he is right also. Without contradiction we agree with James because we understand the messages of these two men.

The Apostle Paul is speaking of works apart from hearing, believing and loving God. He is speaking of men who know of God and His promises but are trying to work out their salvation by their own methods rather than following God’s plan; such works are corrupted by the sin nature of man and is not acceptable to God; and also, there has never been a law given that could impart life.

The Apostle Paul is speaking of men seeking righteousness through the “works of the Law” and James is speaking of a love that leads to obedience—“works of faith”---diligently following God’s plan.

The Apostle Paul writes,

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Romans 3:28 [NASU]

Now we will repeat the same Scripture but inserting the elements of faith in italics rather than the word “faith.”

For we maintain that a man is justified by hearing God, believing Him, and obeying from a heart of love apart from the works of the Law.

For example, let us imagine if Noah possessed a stone with God’s handwriting giving the Ten Commandments of the Moral Law. Let us also imagine that Noah also had God’s warning of a flood and instructions to build an ark. But let us suppose that out of fear of death Noah kept all Ten Commandments to the letter but ignored the instructions to build an ark. If all of the above were true, could “the works of the Law” save him? Of course not!

Let us imagine that, in as effort to survive the flood, Noah set out to build a boat without following God’s plan; and we will assume that he got his boat ready by the time the flood came. Don’t you know that the storm would have completely destroyed his little boat. Thus his works would have not saved him from death. He would have been like Nimrod, who never knew God, trying to build his tower into heaven.

The Apostle James writes,

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

James 2:14 [NASU]

The Apostle James is speaking here of a faith that is lacking the element of obedience to the word of God.

Again, for example, let us imagine that Noah heard God when He warned of a flood that would destroy all flesh. And He believed Him as He gave him instructions to build an ark; but he never lifted a hand to pick up his tools to build the ark. Would his hearing and believing God save him? Of course not! Apart from works of obedience his hearing and believing would be worthless (James 2:17, 20). God’s saving grace was poured out upon Noah because he participated in his salvation through obedience to the word of God from a pure heart of love.

Out of God’s love for mankind, He has mercy and extends His invitation of salvation to man through His Son Jesus. We love God because He first loved us. Through this love of His, He inspires faith -- a faith that includes obedience (works).

James C Sanford

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