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Justification By Faith And By Works

These are two weighty matters. Briefly, justification by faith has to do with the salvation of the sinner. Justification by works has to do with the believer subsequently doing what is right in his life day by day in the service of the Lord.

A sinner is initially justified by the hearing of faith, not by the works of the law, whether it be the law of God or that of any other code of conduct. Romans 4 and Galatians 3 explain this fully. Yet on this subject there is much confusion of thought. The guidance from God is clear. One particularly helpful verse is Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory". What could be clearer?

But the plain sense of these words has been distorted and indeed negatived by the systematic teaching of great ecclesiastical movements. A former Primus of the Scottish Church, a man of deep personal piety, wrote, "We go into the Church

we are brought into the Church - when at the font baptized, and made members of Christ, children of God, and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven". Whereas the real truth is simply put by John the apostle, writing of the days of the Lord's coming into the world, "He came unto His own, and they that were His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name" (John 1:11,12).

Further, it is evident today that vast numbers of our relatives, neighbours and business associates consider that deeds of merit, of whatever kind, will ensure for them a place in the saints' everlasting rest. The deeds themselves are not to be despised. But the fearful consequences of the false hopes they engender call for incessant exposure. The so-called Christian nations need again the clarion call of the 16th century Reformers, back again to the scriptural requirement of justification by grace and faith in Christ alone.

Some of the historians of the early Christian era have noted that in those primal years there was a growing disinclination on the part of the converts to give themselves to a life of good works after conversion. Increasing stress was therefore laid by their teachers on the need for good works. Gradually, however, grace and goods works began to share in emphasis and finally personal merit displaced grace altogether. Hence, in due course, the Reformation took shape. The reader may remember the account of how Luther, shortly after entering the monastery at Erfurth, fell seriously ill, and an aged brother-monk came to his bedside and began to repeat, with much simplicity and earnestness, the Apostles' Creed, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins". As Luther in feeble accents repeated the words after him, a ray of light entered his darkened mind. "He saw it all; the whole gospel in a single phrase, the forgiveness of sins

not the payment but the forgiveness". Yes, "The just shall live by faith".

A large number of people have a totally unscriptural perspective in spiritual matters. They regard good works as leading into salvation, whereas God describes the good works of a person before conversion as "dead works" (see Heb. 6:1, 9:14). Yet many of us who are enjoying the assurance of justification by faith alone may well be seriously at fault in another way. We may be forgetting that good works should follow salvation. They are integral to the divine plan of human redemption. The Scriptures evidencing this are too many to set out here. Notable among them is Eph. 2:10. It describes those who have been justified by faith apart from works. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them". So that not only did He plan our salvation before times eternal, but in the plan He provided for the new life to make itself manifest in good works.

This essential aspect of the Christian life is expanded by James in chapter 2 of his epistle. He terms it justification by works, describes it in operation in the lives of such different characters as Abraham and Rahab, and views it as the outworking of a saving faith, without which practical expression faith would be dead, inoperative, unfruitful. The new life in the believer should be evidenced in good works. God expects them, the Lord Jesus practised them, the people of God are to be zealous in them, Dorcas was full of them, the wealthy are to be rich in them, the widows in Paul's day were diligently to follow them, the man of God is to be furnished completely in them, and in the day of visitation those around us are to be able to glorify God by reason of them.

The Thessalonian church was commended for its "work of faith". A life of good works proceeds from the vision of faith whereby the disciple endeavours to see surrounding need as the Lord sees it, who makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good. The channels are manifold. There is the call to steadfast continuance in the services of the assembly. There are home responsibilities to be pursued with diligence. There are the spiritual needs of the perishing with whom we come in contact, young and old. There are the lonely to be visited, prayed with, read to; the sorrowing to be comforted; the sick to be

tended; the poor it may be to be fed. There are letters of sympathy or of encouragement to be sent. And what of opportunities for entertaining (it may even be of angels unawares). Little things as some might view them, but great to Him and to the beneficiary.

We live in an atmosphere today which is charged with self-interest, time-absorbing employment, pressures of all sorts which would edge out of our lives, out of our high calling, out of so great salvation, the good works which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. Many are alerted to this and we write for their encouragement in an unappreciative day. Others may not be so and we write for their stimulus.

How did our fathers manage it? Some of us look back on the elders of our earlier years. The men had long hours at work and the women, too, in their non-labour-saving homes; they walked or used public transport. Yet they left behind them an impression of care for others amid it all. Well did the Holy Spirit say, "and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7). "And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work" (2 Cor. 9:8). And the poet has written:

How far in service must I go,

What sacrifices bring

To God, whose loving hands bestow

Each good and perfect thing?

How much of time and thought should I

Devote to Him who died?

What is my debt to Him and why,

And how, may I decide?

A measured service bound would be

A service mean and small.

He did not ask "how much?" from me,

He gave Himself, His all.

He did not ask how far to go;

How far was not to say

What bound? How far? I only know

That He went all the way.