|Vol. 14 No. 9 September 2012||
Works versus Works
Louis Rushmore, Editor
I wanted to first thank you for your website. It is helping me a great deal in my studies. I believe in the gospel plan of salvation (faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and walking in newness of life). My question is that I always hear those from the protestant background or denominational circles say that you are saved by faith and everything else is works. I was reading the Nichol’s pocket Bible Encyclopedia and saw where he says faith is a work. He quotes John 6:29 for this. I began looking at trusted commentary such as Coffman and he says the same thing. I have always thought of faith as something we work at and grow as we study. Can you help me with what the definition of “works” is? I know we are not saved by our own merits but what are they saying is the definition of “works”? Is it correct to say that all of the conditions for salvation is a work? ~ Trey Cauble
The New Testament uses the word “works” primarily in two different ways, depending upon the context in which it appears. That is why it is so fundamentally important to correct biblical interpretation to thoroughly examine the context in which a passage of Scripture appears. Of course, this is really no different than any other means of communication today – written or oral. “Context, context and context,” one could say, are the first three rules of successful communication and the key to understanding the Bible.
The apostle Paul uses the word “works” in the Book of Romans to refer to acts of merit characteristic of Judaism (“works of the law” Romans 9:32). This is the sense in which the same apostle wrote to the churches of Galatia. “[K]nowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16 NKJV). Hence, Scripture affirms that we cannot earn our salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). “[N]ot by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Titus 3:5). However, three verses later we read, “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men” (Titus 3:8).
Though one cannot earn his salvation, Christians are to do “good works” (1 Timothy 6:18; Titus 2:7), which are manifestations of our living faith. The Christian’s faith must be demonstrated! “[W]ho gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Further, Christians ought to encourage each other to do good works; “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
The classical biblical passage that shows the relationship between Christian faith and action or work as a result of our faith is James 2:14-26. James did not contradict the apostle Paul. Each of them simply used the word in a different context. Paul referred to merit deserved owing to works performed – which would have been the only means of true and lasting human holiness under Judaism. Since no one lived sinlessly perfect, works of the law were unable to save faulty humans. James, though, referred to the actions of a living and active faith. These works are not the means of becoming saved, but they are the fruit of saved people living out their faith. Hence, James three times in the aforementioned context wrote, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17, 24, 26).
Christian faith is equivalent to obedience. Absolute obedience required by the Old Law to justify a person became unattainable whenever someone violated any portion of God’s law (1 John 3:4). Every human soul finds himself or herself in this lamentable situation (Romans 3:10, 23). What humans could not do for themselves and by themselves, Jesus Christ did for us (Romans 5:8). Mankind still must obey, but where we fail in absolute obedience, the sacrifice of the Son of God makes it possible for us to be justified anyway (John 3:16). “…He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). Hence, we find the biblical relationship between obedience or works and faith, “obedience to the faith” (Romans 1:5) and “obedience to the faith” (Romans 16:26).
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Hello and thank you for your web site and Jesus for helping me find it. My boyfriend is a new born again believer and I know he received the Holy Spirit about a year ago; as the Spirit knows the Spirit. I was born again 36 years ago. He is right now in prison (we are separated by 500 miles) we have letter and phone communication. I, by the way, am the victim, and also, the one Jesus used to bring him to his recent conversion. It’s quite a testimony, to say the least. I had my boyfriend’s counselor ask me recently, “How can you love a man who did all the things he did to you?” My answer came quickly and perfectly from The Holy Spirit as I replied, “You’ll have to ask God that.” Anyway, brief introduction aside, I need specific scriptures that I am unable to come up with myself this time and so I turn to you. At the present time, my boyfriend is reading The adversary by Mark Bubeck. I have tried to explain my firm conviction that this is not a book he should be reading now or ever. I’ve quoted scripture given to me via The Holy Spirit; as He promises to bring to remembrance the word when needed and nothing I’ve been able to put together is having any affect on his continuance to read the book. Please, help me if you can. Having something concrete from someone, somewhere other than me, is, I feel, imperative to get the book away from him. I thank you in advance and lift you up in prayer as I write, for the help you might be able to give us. In Christ Jesus, Rebecca Almeida
Dear Friend, thank you for your kind words about Gospel Gazette Online, as well as your confidence that I might be able to provide some insight about inquiry. I hasten, though, to say that not every response to a question that one person may ask of another is exactly what is desired. This may be the case this time, but I assure you that I am sincerely interested in your spiritual and physical wellbeing.
Your reference to Scripture respecting the Holy Spirit providing remembrance of God’s Word refers to John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26 NKJV). John chapters 14-16 were spoken specifically and exclusively to the apostles of Christ. The promise of John 14:26 of the Holy Spirit was to them alone. Jesus told His apostles the Holy Spirit would bring to their “remembrance all things that I [He] said to you [them]” during His three-year, earthly ministry. That is why your sincere but misguided belief that the Holy Spirit gave you Scripture references, but that they were inadequate, prompted you to ask a mere mortal for additional help. This is not meant as criticism, but simply providing you with necessary information.
Today, everyone must turn to the inspired Word of God, the New Testament in particular, for instruction in religion. God’s written revelation is the standard of authority in religion today, and it will be until the end of time. Consider these two passages, though many more similar Scriptures are available for examination.
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
I am not familiar with the book title about which you write, other than to know that it is a popular title according to a quick Internet search. Of course, popularity in no way validates the worthiness of even a religious book. While it may be harmful, there are other matters that also need to be addressed, too. (1) You need to become more familiar with God’s Word so that you can determine for yourself, according to what is written in especially the New Testament, how God has determined to save mankind from sins. Thereby one can have great confidence about eternity and know that he or she knows, based on biblical evidence, that he or she is saved. In addition, a careful student of God’s Word can better know how to conduct himself or herself in Christian living, Christian service and Christian worship. Please find the church of Christ in your community, and caring Christians will help you to know God’s Word more perfectly. Contact me if you need help finding such a congregation near you.
(2) You indicated that your boyfriend is receiving counseling in prison. That is a good thing, of course. However, you need to receive counseling as well, forasmuch as you identify yourself as a victim. You need to be able to distinguish clearly between your ongoing love for this man as opposed to experiencing an emotional syndrome that draws one to his or her abuser. There is a difference between forgiving someone of something and providing them future opportunity or temptation to resume as before. For example, though one might forgive a church treasurer for embezzling church funds, it is probably unwise to reinstate him as treasurer. Though a spouse may forgive his or her spouse for committing adultery, Jesus provided for the divorce of the guilty party and the remarriage by the innocent marriage partner (Matthew 19:9).
Gospel Gazette Online is a resource of thousands of archived pages of religious writings, true to the Bible. I hope that it proves useful to you. Personal encouragement by Christians can help one put his or her life back together and hand-in-hand make the pilgrimage through this life to the eternity of heaven with God.
Louis Rushmore, Editor
The following excerpt was copied from your website. I believe it to be in error. The miraculous continues. “Although our prayers do produce actions, these actions must not, cannot, be contrary to the laws of nature. We cannot pray for a miraculous recovery and expect it to occur because miracles have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:8; Ephesians 4:11-13).” ~ Angelo
Even the passages cited in the excerpt that you deem to be incorrect specifically speak to the ending of miracles (1 Corinthians 13:8-12; Ephesians 4:11-13). Jesus Christ Himself identified the purpose of miracles as recorded in Mark 16:20, “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mark 16:20 NKJV). The primary purpose of miracles was to confirm or substantiate the revealed Word of God and its proclaimers as being from God. The Corinthians and Ephesians passages teach that miracles were to last until the revelation was complete. That revelation, the New Testament is complete (Galatians 1:6-9; Jude 3; 2 Peter 1:3), and so miracles have served the purpose for which they were given.
However, the same divine power that made miracles possible is the same divine power behind the providence of God, which is still active today. Hence for instance, we expect God to respond to our prayers through His divine providence rather than through miraculous means. Miracles were obvious, supernatural and usually instantaneous. Providence, though, does not require supernatural means and is not obvious to observers. Miracles were designed to prove something, whereas providence does not prove something to the beholder.
Not intending to be silly, yet, think of this with me for a moment – to illustrate the point at hand. How many people have you seen lately walking on water miraculously in defiance of the laws of nature? How many miraculously multiplying bread and fishes churches are there today? How many people are being healed miraculously today from undeniably, observable physical maladies (e.g., have never walked but walk and leap instantly, lepers being made whole immediately despite former ravages of disease – which often includes deformities and missing digits)? How many people are being miraculously raised from the dead these days? I will go to any cemetery, and while another can call upon the dead to arise, I will tell them to stay where they are! Not that I have any power, but the point is that Bible miracles are not possessed by anyone now living.
Scripture, number one, and secondly universal observation of a void of Bible quality miracles resoundingly affirm that no Bible miracles are being performed today. The primary purpose of miracles was never to heal the sick, turn water to wine, multiply bread and fishes, or to walk on water. Those were the byproducts of the purpose of miracles. Now that the purpose of miracles has been accomplished, those miraculous byproducts are no longer with us.