Your New Year's Spiritual Exam

By Robin Schumacher

Single Page/Printer Friendly

Continued from Page One

With All Due Respect to Luther

Martin Luther may have viewed the book of James with skepticism, but I don't think there's any clearer discourse on the subject of false vs. saving faith in the New Testament. In the second chapter of James, the apostle asks a question that sums up his position on the matter: "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).

It's fairly obvious what answer the apostle expects.

In vv. 14-16, James (like Edwards) makes his case for "holy practice" being the chief evidence of saving faith and concludes his remarks in the same way I've summarized Edward's position: "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).

This truth is everywhere is Scripture. Whether it's John the Baptist and Jesus teaching on the differences in the fruit of good vs. bad trees (Matt. 3:10, 7:16, 12:33; Luke 6:44, 13:7; John 15:2, 6), Christ's parables of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), the sower (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23), and the wheat/tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), Paul's talk of those who deny God by their deeds (Titus 1:16), or the writer of Hebrews' illustration of ground that brings forth a good crop vs. thorns (Heb. 6:7-8), the Bible's statement of a new creation in God producing good works that signifies real salvation is hard to miss.

Bookending the Salvation Experience

In his penetrating book The Atonement, the English Congregationalist leader R. W. Dale rightly bookends the saving faith experience when he says, "Evangelical preachers have never hesitated to maintain the absolute necessity of repentance as an antecedent of faith; they should not hesitate to maintain the absolute necessity of good works as a consequent of faith." [3]

While there is no way to improve on Dale's statement, we are left with the question: what type of good works are we talking about? After all, the people discussed at the outset of this article exhibited many different Christian 'works'. The Pharisees appeared to be the role models of Judaism and yet Jesus asked them, "How will you escape the sentence of Hell?" (Matt. 23:33).

Let us understand that simple belief in God is not enough because, as James says, "the demons also believe and shudder" (James 2:19).

We get glimpses of the answer in Jesus' stinging rebuke against the Pharisees where He tells them how they "are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" and that they have "neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:27, 23).

The fact is, one day the tare grows up and showcases what it really is. While some may appear Christian on the outside, sooner or later, they become living and breathing examples of what Peter bluntly describes: "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire." (2 Pet. 2:22). Their "affections" (as Edwards terms it) have not been changed nor are permanent with respect to God.

It's my hope and prayer that after you self-administer the test of Scripture where saving faith is concerned, you don't find yourself in the situation Peter describes, but rather pass the test with flying colors. If, by some chance, you don't, then please seek God in prayer, repent of your past, call on the name of Christ, be born again, and walk in the power of the Spirit from this day forward.

For more, see the article "What are some of the signs of genuine saving faith?"

3. R. W. Dale, The Atonement, Kindle Edition, Loc. 1770.

TagsBiblical-Salvation  |  Calvinism-Tulip  |  Controversial-Issues  |  Theological-Beliefs

comments powered by Disqus
Published 1-2-14