Saturday, May 29, 2010

Works of faith and works of law

In a RECENT POST, I addressed an objection using 2 Timothy 1:8-10 in establishing that being declared righteous (a.k.a. justification) can only happen apart from works of any kind. The objection could be phrased something like this;

"Justification certainly happens by faith, but not just faith alone. Works are needed in order to achieve this end. However, the texts which speak of "faith apart from works of the law" is only within the context of the Mosaic Law. That is, it isn't including other types of works, such as works of faith. Therefore, we are still justified by faith and works."

Such objections, though advocated by many, are contradicted by explicit statements in Scripture. And as I came across Titus 3:5 today, I was reminded how the biblical gospel truly thwarts the religions of men; that is, religion that brings works into the salvation equation:

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
(Titus 3:5–7)

The apostle Paul is writing these words as a justified believer (Romans 5:1). And in doing so, he claims that his salvation was not on the basis of righteous deeds, but according to mercy. Is there any room in this text for importing "Mosaic law" to the exclusion of "works of faith?"

δικαιοσύνη, “righteousness,” refers either to a Pharisaic obedience to the law (Guthrie, 204; Quinn, 216) or to “upright moral conduct in general” (Kelly, 251, citing 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22; 3:16). The former seems out of context (Knight, Faithful Sayings, 93). It will be balanced by v 7, which summarizes vv 4—6 by saying δικαιωθέντες τῇ ἐκείνου χάριτι, “having been justified by his grace,” a totally Pauline thought. Hanson’s ([1983] 191) comment that “Paul would never use dikaiosune in this way” misses the point if Paul is quoting a source, and it is unreasonable to insist that a person cannot quote a source where a word is used differently from the way the person normally uses it. In addition, the thrust of the phrase is fully Pauline, emphasizing the futility of human effort in contrast to the true righteousness from God by faith (v 7; cf. Phil 3:9).

-William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles (WBC 46; Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. Waco: Word Books, 2000), 448.

Here, Mounce is careful to distinguish between "Mosaic works" and "upright moral conduct in general." However, in doing so, he emphasizes how Paul has the latter in view. That is, there is a principle at work here: salvation is not, in any way, based upon works of any kind. If it were, there would be no reason to bring mercy into the equation. The reason being, as soon as one adds works to salvation, merit becomes part of the basis. But Paul would have none of this. Instead, God will be glorified through His work of "washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit...being justified by His grace."

It truly amazes me how men want to strip God from His glory in having full control of the salvation process. This gift of being justified apart from our good works is such an incredible gift that it boggles my mind as to how men want to add their good works to it. I can only hope and pray that all who read this and hold to a false gospel of works salvation will repent and embrace the pure and unadulterated gospel of mercy and grace.


Anonymous said...

This old argument has been going on for centuries but the fact remains that the demons believe. What is more, they know. It is a dead faith, a dead knowledge because it in no way affects their behavior, at least positively. They are not saved despite the mercy and grace of God. True faith in Christ naturally inclines us to works of righteousness, the daily struggle of carrying our crosses and following Christ. It is a false,smug,prideful gospel that deceives so many to preen themselves in their automatic salvation while their lives and deeds are in no way changed or different from those of the unbelievers. "Justification is a word used in the Scriptures to mean that in Christ we are forgiven and actually made righteous in our living. Justification is not a once-for-all, instantaneous pronouncement guaranteeing eternal salvation, regardless of how wickedly a person might live from that point on. Neither is it merely a legal declaration that an unrighteous person is righteous. Rather, justification is a living, dynamic, day-to-day reality for the one who follows Christ. The Christian actively pursues a righteous life in the grace and power of God granted to all who continue to believe in Him."

Mike Felker said...

@anonymous, care to exegete Titus 3:5-7 or 2 Timothy 1:8-10 (as I have done) and share with us how it supports your conclusions?

Anonymous said...

Care to familiarize yourself with Patristic exegeses? Start with: and

Mike Felker said...

There is almost nothing in those links that I could tell which really addresses the "not according to works." It looked as if it was skimmed right by it. But instead of posting links, why not just offer your thoughts here? Anyone can post links. I can post 10 for every 2 that you post. But what does that accomplish? At the least, you could quote the relevant sections here for all to consider.

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is the old anonymous from a few posts back. Care to comment on the book of James, Mr. Felker? Or are we just pretending that book doesn't shed light on what it means to be 'doers of the word'?

Mike Felker said...

@anonymous, why not just deal with the texts i've exegeted before running off to other texts?

Also, it really is about time you (and whoever else) stop being anonymous. Its difficult to address who i'm responding to when there are now 2 anonymous users. I don't even care if its not your real name. Any kind of user name will work.

Anonymous said...

The reason I throw James out there is because no one has yet in the past few discussions on this subject. Everyone claims that the NT is all pointing at simply believing when the book of James goes along with many other scriptures that prove simply 'believing' is not enough.

Let's consider Titus then, not just Titus 3:5-7 but the man. Paul says that Titus was his "fellow worker". (2 Cor 8:23) Not simply believing in Jesus, he had a place, taking the lead in the congregation.

Titus 3:8 makes clear that believers needed to keep their minds on good works.

Mike Felker said...

With reference to living the Christian life, I agree that "believing is not enough."

But when it comes to what actually justifies us *before God*, then belief is absolutely enough because that is what saves us! "But to the one who does not work, but believes, his faith is credited as righteousness." (Rom. 4:5)

So, no doubt, believers as you say, should "keep their minds on good works." And anyone who would ever suggest otherwise is nothing short of heretical. But what is equally heretical is suggesting that works actually justify you, or can add merit to your account. But there is no merit or earning salvation in the gospel message. Salvation is accomplished through Christ's atoning work (2 Cor. 5:19) and imputed righteousness to our account (Rom. 4:5). Works do not factor into this equation.

But what works do factor into is whether or not our faith is truly genuine, which is what James 2 is all about. However, you can't confuse the fruit of justification (good works) with the root of justification (genuine faith in Christ).

Hope that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

It really does makes sense Mike, but your concept of JW's does not. If you read any book by the Watchtower you will read that works won't save us. But living the Christian life requires we do what Christ did. We act on love for God and neighbor. Simply that. Quit trying to make that an evil thing.

Mike Felker said...

On the contrary, the Watchtower clearly teaches that works will save you:

*** w51 9/15 p. 557 par. 11 What to Do in the Face of the End ***

So there is good reason for the time allowance which God has granted since 1914. It is not just to let human suffering take place on a scale greater than ever before or more flagrant wickedness to be carried on. Not that! But it is in order to discharge God’s responsibility to serve final notice and in order to send his chosen witnesses with a final warning in this “time of the end”. So this is a period of God’s undeserved kindness, allowing people of good will who are in danger to take advantage of God’s patience and mercy. They are thus given a fair opportunity to act and work for their own salvation by God’s means, and not by human means. They should never presume upon God’s patience and think he is slow and they may linger a little longer with the world and enjoy more of it before making a last-minute break for safety under God’s organization. There is now no time to lose, and we should all take the viewpoint that Peter said to take: “Consider the patience of our Lord as salvation.” (2 Pet. 3:15, NW; Rev. 12:13-17) So work for salvation.

Mark Hunter said...

" If you read any book by the Watchtower you will read that works won't save us."

Worse than that, the Governing Body claim that being a part of their organisation is what saves.

Anonymous said...

With regards those who will rule in Heaven with Christ, the 144,000...

*** it-1 p. 605 Declare Righteous ***

It can be seen that, though enjoying the status of righteous persons before God, these Christians do not possess actual or literal perfection in the flesh. (1Jo 1:8; 2:1) In view of the prospect of heavenly life for these followers of Christ, such literal perfection in fleshly organism now is not actually needed. (1Co 15:42-44, 50; Heb 3:1; 1Pe 1:3, 4) However, by their being declared righteous, having righteousness “counted,” or credited, to them, God’s requirements of justice are satisfied, and he brings the adopted ones into the “new covenant” validated by the blood of Jesus Christ. (Lu 22:20; Mt 26:28) These adopted spiritual sons in the new covenant that is made with spiritual Israel are ‘baptized into Christ’s death,’ eventually dying a death like his.—Ro 6:3-5; Php 3:10, 11.

Anonymous said...

Jesus did make mention of working however. (John 14:12; Luke 10:7; Acts 1:8)

Not works of Law, but practical work that demonstrate faith, ie preaching. (Heb 6:10)

Anonymous said...

I have an idea Mike. Your next topic should be, not about what Christians believe or do not, but what it means to be Christian.

Mike Felker said...

To all the anonymous users: seriously, use a name of some kind. Its not difficult and doesn't require a google account. If you don't, the comments get sloppy and no one can tell who is responding to who. So, do the right thing and make a nick.

With that said, here's my responses:

1. Is the citing of the Insight section supposed to inform me that only the "anointed" experience justification? Otherwise, what is the purpose in citing it? Do you not believe that you have been justified, as Paul says, "not working, but believing...his faith is credited as righteousness?"

2. Of course Jesus made mention of working, as does practically every book of the Bible. And yes, works demonstrate whether your faith is truly genuine. But again, works do not and cannot justify you before God.

3. That's a good idea. There is too much "easy believism" in the church today where people get their salvation ticket punched and go on living like the devil. Thus, any "gospel" that neglects repentance is nothing short of a false gospel. So yeah, as i'm reading through the Scriptures and come across these themes, i'll consider including some blogs on that topic.

Anonymous said...

1. I do/will receive blessings because of Christ's death, however, I am not in the "new covenant". So yes, that is why I posted it. You said JW's claim it is only with works we are justified, I simply shared a comment that shows otherwise.

2. Are you claiming then that JW's don't have genuine faith?

3. True Christians live by what Christ said and no other religion, or group of people can say they love their neighbor more than JW's. Why can I say that? We don't kill our enemies in war, nor do we support it. We preach to people about the Bible, about hope for the future, something 90% of the World's religions don't do, and most admit it...

Mike Felker said...

1. That is very, very sad that you do not consider yourself a member of the new covenant. I wish you the best of luck in attempting to fulfill the requirements of the law. Also, I never claimed that JW's think that "only works" justify them. Instead, its much like the Galatian Judaizers who believed that faith saves, but it must be coupled with works.

2. No, JW's do not have genuine faith. If they did, they'd recognize that justification occurs by faith "apart from works of law." (Rom. 3:28)

3. Translation: "Hey! Look at us! We're so so much better than you!"

Anonymous said...

1. I don't believe in luck and yes, you all you do is claim that JW's say that only works will save us. Look at your last few posts. I banking with my life that by imitating Christ to the best of my ability along with genuine faith will provide my salvation. (2 Cor 11:15)

2. James 2:18 - JW's preach to the best of our ability to the whole World, that we might save, no just ourselves, but those who will listen.

3. And in January 1994, Pope John Paul II said that it is “not the time to be ashamed of the Gospel, it’s time to preach it from the rooftops.” It's not bragging, but actions speak louder than words Mike. JW's just preach, whether in a concentration camp with our lives on the line or just an easy door to door day in America. Jesus told us to, so we do. You say you don't have to, so don't.

Mike Felker said...

1. if I gave the impression that JW's believe that only works can save you, then I apologize. I agree that the JW position is that works and faith save you. But I still wish you the best of luck. And I don't believe in luck either. But luck is going to be what you need in order to be saved "by the best of my ability," as you stand in judgment before an infinitely holy God.

2. Ok, but this doesn't answer my point that genuine faith will recognize that its own works are not what "credits righteousness." Look at Romans 4:5. According to this verse, what credits righteousness and what doesn't?

3. If actions speak louder than words, then let your actions speak. And if they did speak for themselves, why would you need to brag with, "I'm so much better than you!"

And to accuse me with, "You say you don't have to, so don't" is a complete and total misrepresentation of what I believe about justification and sanctification.

Anonymous said...

1. Don't apologize, even though you're an aologist. I think we are saying the same thing, though it doesn't seem that way. I will go before the throne, an imperfect, sinful man, but with Christ's sacrifice I have the chance to be made clean (in a sense now, but mostly future) and by demonstrating faith, with works and living a clean (as close as possible) life will be allowed to enter the Kingdom (on Earth) or not. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I will pray that my God saves me. (Daniel 3:17)

With no Christ, there is no chance, with works or without.

2. We won't agree because I believe there are two groups and you believe all who are good will go to Heaven.

3. I have no bragged or even said "I'm so much beter than you!". I made a statement about people who claim to be Christian and those who actually are. You can take that as a slam, but really you can follow what Christ did or do what you want. Most people choose the latter.

You want to argue that works won't save you. I'm saying, JW's by their works prove their faith. (Matt 16:24)

Mike Felker said...

I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but I can't let this statement slide:

"You believe all who are good will go to heaven?"

Where have I even hinted that this is what I believe?

Anonymous said...

Ok, when I say good in this discussion, I am implying all who 'believe' in Christ, aka 'christians'. So, roughly two billion will be ruling in Heaven. Or did you not ever hint at that either?

Hopefully that clears it up. I will try to be more specific next time.

Mike Felker said...

Let me be straight with you. I fully and completely find the position heretical that states that a person can just "believe," never repent of their sins, and go on living like the devil. This would not only go against what I believe about salvation, but also the Reformers who formulated "salvation by faith alone."

So no, I don't think that everyone who claims to be Christian will "go to heaven." And just to clear up another thing, I lean towards the position that all Christians will live forever on earth, not in heaven.

Anonymous said...

You are an enigma.

JW's don't live like the devil, but because you don't think what we do in preaching is sincere. Our faith produces works.

You state that you stand by the reformers who "formulated salvation by faith alone." That's your first problem by standing by that formulation.

Who will be in Heaven ruling with Christ? Just 1st Century Christians? Obviously, those in the New Covenant will be ruling in Heaven.

Mike Felker said...

If you really want to discuss that last point in more detail, take it to a blog where that is more relevant.