>James vs. Paul? The dynamic between Faith and Works

>For those who were not at the service on Sunday, I preached on James 2:14-17. James 2:14-17 states this:

“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 sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed 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.”

Is James contradicting Paul here? James goes on to say specifically Abraham and Rahab were justified by works in verses 21-26. Paul states in Romans 3:23-27 that we are justified freely by grace and the propitiation of Christ Jesus our Lord (“for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.“) Many in scholarship today and in the past saw no way to reconcile James and Paul. What about James and Jesus? James was a half-brother of our Lord, but some could say that James and Jesus both teach a justification by works and Paul teaches a justification by faith. Look at Matthew 5:17-20:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.

How do we reconcile this? The words justify, righteous, and righteousness all come from the same root Greek word – dikaios. Justify in Greek is simply the verbal form of the word righteous. To justify is to make righteous. So when Jesus says that unless our righteousness / justification exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven and James says that Abraham and Rahab were justified by works and faith without works are dead, how do we reconcile that with Romans 3-6?

First, we need to realize that the way Jesus and James define and use the word justification is different than the way Paul uses it. James uses the term to refer to an expression of the faith that is in you. The justification is an evidence or a proof of saving faith. And thus, what Abraham did in his agreeing to sacrifice Isaac or Rahab in assisting the spies was to evidence the saving faith that they already possessed. Genesis 15:6 records that when Abram believed in the covenant that God made to him, Abraham believed the Lord, and God counted it to Abram as righteousness. The event referenced in James about the almost sacrifice of Isaac did not occur until Genesis 22. Therefore, Abraham was already justified by faith in Genesis 15, 7 chapters before he was “justified by works”. You see how James is using this term differently – as an evidence or a proof. Regarding the Matthew 5 passage in the Sermon on the Mount, my ESV study bible notes (written Michael J. Wilkins) state this (this is not gospel but I agree with him):

“Jesus calls his disciples to a different kind and quality of righteousness than that of the scribes and Pharisees. They took pride in outward conformity to many extrabiblical regulations but still had impure hearts. But KINGDOM righteousness works from the inside out because it first produces changed hearts and new motivations (see Rom. 6:17; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 2:12; Heb. 8:10), so that the actual conduct of Jesus’ followers does in fact ‘exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.'”

This is deep stuff – BUT IT IS CRITICAL. The idea of justification by grace through faith because of the propitiatory work of Christ on the Cross (Propitiation is another word for ATONEMENT) is so mind boggling that we many times cannot grasp the concept even after salvation. Last night during class as we were going through Romans, my professor Dr. Steven Carlson mentioned this (in paraphrase):

Works righteousness and the idea that you can earn salvation or favor from God through works is the default religious view of fallen humanity. After the fall, there was within us a desire to still commune with God and to get back to that relationship. The problem is that in our fallen state, we by default assume that it is through “being good” or “good works” that this comes about. Thus, every religion in the world assumes works righteousness leads to salvation except Christianity (and I suppose Hinduism / Buddhism, which simply denies that sin exists, which is why it is so popular today).

Many of us who have lived within an evangelical context read the previous statements and say, “Sure, we get that you are saved by grace through faith and not by works, what else is new?”

But the following is what I think the hidden danger of legalism in the church:

Are you a closet legalist? A closet legalist is one that believes in salvation by grace through faith and not by works but once saved does good works to either reap the blessings of God or stave off the chastisement of God. We may think this is a proper reading of Scripture, but it robs us of the God of Scripture. It makes our God out to be some cosmic ogre demanding repayment of a stifling debt or a divine Santa Claus “making a list and checking it twice to see who’s been naughty or nice!”

NO – WE DO GOOD WORKS, WE ARE CHARITABLE, WE ARE LOVING, WE ARE OBEDIENT BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN BORN AGAIN, WE ARE A NEW CREATION, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS FOR GOOD WORKS AND OUR GOOD WORKS IS OUR HIGHEST FORM OF WORSHIP THAT WE CAN GIVE TO A GOD WHO SAVES!!!!!! Any other faith, any other work/deed that is not rooted in CHRIST and for his glory is DEAD.

In the Heidelberg Catechism question 86 says this: “Since we are redeemed from our sin and its consequences by grace through Christ without any merit of our own, why must we do good works?” In other words, if salvation is by grace, why be good? The answer that the catechism gives is very instructive: “So that with our whole life we may show ourselves grateful to God for his goodness and that he may be glorified through us.” We offer service to the kingdom of God not to gain his affection but in loving thankfulness for his affection. (Question 86, pulled from Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Preaching, p. 314)

It is my prayer that Christian evangelicalism will have a revival during the coming decades that will reclaim the true Gospel teaching of faith-righteousness in Christ Jesus. We truly are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come. All this is from GOD WHO THROUGH CHRIST RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF AND GAVE US THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION (II Cor. 5:17-18).

Amen, Christ Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father from everlasting to everlasting!

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>Sermon tomorrow

>I will be preaching tomorrow night during the evening worship service at Dresden First Baptist Church. The title of the Sermon is “Diet Faith”. We will be looking at James 2:14-17. Here is the text:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can this faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. (HCSB).

May God be glorified in the services tomorrow at Dresden First Baptist Church!

>Friday at the Future of Denominationalism Conference at Union University (Part II)

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Dr. Mohler spoke at the chapel service on Friday and discussed the question, Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals?  Here are the notes that I took from his impressive call to the next generation of Southern Baptists (of which I assume I am a part).

 

Luke 18:8 – “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

 

In 1989, Albert Mohler wrote an article entitled, “Are Southern Baptists Evangelicals?”  Even though there were some misgivings about this term, in regards to the overall options to be identified with the only place we fit is Evangelical.  That term still has meaning for us.  The options are Liberal, Evangelical, or everything else.  We don’t want to be in the everything else category, so the evangelical moniker fits.  Other identification discussions also centered around the truth party vs. liberty party debates (coherent truth vs. soul liberty).  The bottom line of these introductory comments for Mohler is that in 1989 it was good to know that we had friends in the evangelical world in the midst of the debates surrounding the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.  But Mohler mentioned that twenty years after this article was published, he would not write the same thing today.  Today his title would bee, “We REALLY ARE BAPTISTS!”

 

We live in the midst of a culture and a religious experience that is marked by the following:

  1. Confusion over religious branding and over the purpose of denominationalism
  2. Weakness of parachurch organizations
  3. Evangelical identity issues. 

 

And thus the Southern Baptist Convention is headed for a crisis.  And this crisis will be focused on the forging of a new identity for the denomination.  Currently, across the board, we are seeing the death of cultural Christianity, which counted on people being involved in denominations and the religious experience just because it was the way it is culturally.  This is no longer the case. 

 

Today’s crisis is a generational crisis and a new slogan will not suffice.  What is needed now is not a new slogan, but a resurgence in the Great Commission.  Only the cause of the Gospel will keep us together and strong enough to endure.  The gospel is the only message that saves.  We must ask the hard questions of ourselves.  We have been called to be a church on mission. 

 

This new generation is a Generation of Social Transformation, Historical Significance, and Global Responsibility.  Thomas Friedman recently wrote an article identifying three “bombs” that threatened the new generation.  Those bombs are the nuclear bomb (still a threat), the climate bomb, and the debt bomb.  But, according to Dr. Mohler (and I agree with him), the 800 pound gorilla, or the proverbial pink elephant, in the room is what are we going to do for the cause of the Gospel! 

 

According to author Christian Smith, today’s generation is marked by a “moralistic therapeutic deism”.  This is a problem.  Again referring to Smith, Mohler mentioned that we are less sure even about the deism part.  Today’s generation does not reject the gospel, but simply a shrug of indifference.  This is the Generation of Institutional Disinterest and this is the Generation that the Southern Baptist Convention’s new generation is called to reach. 

 

Mohler implored the new generation not the leave the Southern Baptist Church, but to save it. We are to give ourselves not to the Southern Baptist Convention, but to Christ. 

 

This next Generation is the Generation to Go Deep!  Deep ecclesiology, deep missions, deep passion.  There can be no easy believism.  We should not give ourselves to the culture wars, the culture is lost and gone!  We are to give ourselves the Gospel ministry – all of us. 

 

When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  Will he find a powerful demonstration of faith in the Southern Baptist Convention?  It is Dr. Mohler's and my prayer that Christ will indeed find such faith upon the earth! 

>Friday at the Future of Denominationalism Conference – Union University (Part I)

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Friday, October the 9th, 2009 Bonnie and I were privileged to attend the Future of Denominationalism conference at Union University on its final day.  The speakers for the morning were Nathan Finn (a professor at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Dr. R. Albert Mohler (President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).  This blog will be the notes that I gleaned from these two impressive discourses on the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

 

Nathan Finn discussed the idea of Baptists as Evangelicals.  He stated that we are ourselves evangelicals that sometimes must swim against the evangelical currents, but must remain in the evangelical river.  The major thrust of his discourse was the two non-negotiables that Southern Baptists should affirm and uphold as Evangelicals.  Those two foundations should be Catechesis and Narrative. 

 

  1. Catechesis:  We must labor to pass on a commitment to convictional integrity but we must also focus on a Christian way to read and study the Christian Scriptures.  We must have a robust view of the Gospel.  We must know it, teach it, and live it!  We must have a theological vision for ministry.  This theological vision for ministry involves:
    1. Gospel Instinct against heterodox beliefs and to avoid the truncated view of conversion.  We must get back to the life change (not easy believism).  Do we have more conviction in our denomination for culture wars or for gospel ministry?  We must restore our confessional convictions! 
    2. In our Catechesis, we should NOT pass on to the future some of the following things:

                                                              i.      Unhealthy likeness / affinity for theological diversity and parachurch organizations.

                                                            ii.      We must not pass on cultural captivity.

                                                          iii.      Ethno-centrism à Southern Baptists as white southerners. 

                                                          iv.      Denominational arrogance and elitism – as if God cannot evangelize the lost through any other mechanism.

                                                            v.       Atheological pragmatism – sacrificing the gospel ministry for what is pragmatic in regards to politics and mechanism of the denomination

                                                          vi.      Penchant of bricks, budgets, and bottoms over the conversion and discipleship of souls

  1. Narrative: We must as Southern Baptists also be focused and committed to passing on our stories.
    1. We must pass on the stories and lives of the giants of the faith in Baptist History
    2. We must uphold with pride that it was the Baptists who championed religious liberty over 100 years before Jefferson and the Constitutional Congress took up the call.
    3. We must also tell the grand story of Baptist involvement in mission over the centuries.
    4. We must tell the story of the great seminaries and colleges that we as Baptists have founded.
    5. We must tell of the likes of Smyth, Helwys, Mercer, Broadus, Boyce, Hobbs, Rogers, McCall, Mullins, Pressler, Manly, Carey, Fuller, Dagg, Mell, Judson, Wallace, Moon, Armstrong, and others.  [Blogger Interlude: how many of you can identify who I am talking about here?  If you can’t, this underscores the point that we need to educate our churches on the wonderful history of the Baptist movement.]

 

That was Nathan Finn’s speech.  Well done! 

>Union Conference

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Thursday and Friday, Bonnie and I were privileged to attend the conference at Union University entitled “Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, and the Future of Denominationalism”.
Thursday night, Dr. David Dockery spoke on the topic of “So Many Denominations: The Rise and Decline of Denominationalism…and the Shaping of a Global Evangelicalism.” Dr. Dockery did an excellent job discussing the history of denominationalism in Christian history and tactfully explained why there are so many denominational structures. What I took from his speech was that we should all realize that even though denominationalism is rampant in today’s society and is getting a bad wrap, denominations still provide a context for guidance and a place of belonging. We should all strive for a denominational future that has conviction and cooperation; boundaries and bridges; structure and spirit.
Here is a good article at the Union University website about Dockery’s speech:
I will be posting tomorrow some comments regarding Friday’s discussions by Dr. Nathan Finn, professor at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

>Is America Turning into a Hindu Nation?

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Lisa Miller of Newsweek Magazine wrote this in August of 2009 and I used this in my sermon last night on I John 4:1-6.  This is startling information and goes to show the challenge that American Christians have in the sharing of the gospel.  God is good and Our Savior Reigns!  Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world!

 

 

 

Here is the Article:

 

“America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that’s the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

 

The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur’an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."

 

Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life"—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You’re not picking and choosing from different religions, because they’re all the same," he says. "It isn’t about orthodoxy. It’s about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that’s great, too."

 

Then there’s the question of what happens when you die. Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the "self," and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit—where identity resides—escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we’re burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, up from 6 percent in 1975. "I do think the more spiritual role of religion tends to deemphasize some of the more starkly literal interpretations of the Resurrection," agrees Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard. So let us all say "om."  (ref: http://newsweek.com/id/212155/)

 

 

>Greek Test tomorrow and then to Start Blogging Again

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I want to thank everyone for your patience during this time of busyness. Over the past few weeks I have been working a full time job while trying to prepare for a Greek Advanced Placement exam along with the assignments that have come due in my semester classes – Christian Preaching and New Testament I and II. But I should be at a point on Monday that I will be able to start blogging again.
Please pray for me as I take this exam. If I do well on it, then I will not have to take Elementary Greek and will save some moolah.
God Bless,
Joshua Moore