Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Salvation apart from works...of the law?

Is salvation accomplish by faith in Christ alone, or by additional added works? The following Scripture would support the former:

“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
(Romans 3:28 NASB)

However, many would object in suggesting that texts like these are specifically referring to "works of the law." So, they say, we may not be justified by the Mosaic law, but we can be justified by "works of faith" or something along those lines. But does this argument hold water? Consider the following:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”
(2 Timothy 1:8–10 NASB)

Interestingly, "works" are not qualified by "law" in this passage. Instead, we have a principle to consider: salvation is not dependent on what we do but on what God does. Whether it be "works of the law" or some other kind of work, salvation is not based upon works of any kind. Also, there is something else that is important to note, and that is the meaning of ἔργα ("works"). BDAG defines it as,

"That which displays itself in activity of any kind, deed, action...of the deeds of humans, exhibiting a consistent moral character, referred to collectively as...κατὰ τὰ ἔργα in accordance w. the deeds (Ps 27:4; 61:13; Pr 24:12; En 100:7; PsSol 2:16) Mt 23:3; Ro 2:6; 2 Ti 1:9; 4:14; Rv 2:23; 20:12f.

-William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 390.

As can be seen, "exhibiting a consistent moral character" is cited with 2 Timothy 1:9, which would provide an interesting paraphrase of ἔργα:

"who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to [exhibiting a consistent moral character], but according to His own purpose and grace."

Certainly, this sheds some interesting light on this text, as well as offering a powerful refutation against any salvation system which adds your works to your justification before God. So, the next time someone objects to your interpretation of Romans 3:28 by expanding justification by faith to include good works, cite 2 Timothy 1:9 and ask them if the works mentioned are strictly works of the Mosaic law.


Anonymous said...

If we are all declared righteous or justified, simply believing in Jesus, why would Paul encourage Timothy to "pursue righteousness". (1 Tim 6:11, 2 Tim 2:22)

Seems to me that to pursue would require action. Or is that not really what Paul meant?

Mike Felker said...

You are confusing justification with sanctification. People who are justified will pursue righteousness in accordance with their new nature as being new creations in Christ.

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