Tag Archives: Jesus as Savior

Being a Real Christian – Part 4

In Romans Chapters 3-5, Paul discusses how justification is by faith rather than works. The concept of salvation by faith is mentioned many times in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s writing and the Gospel of John. But the question which arises from this concept is, are works or obedience still required of us? Are we free to do whatever we want to?

As much as different Christian sects have tried to streamline answers to this question, I actually find that the New Testament gives at least two different perspectives. First, let’s look at how the Apostle James approaches this dilemma.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works” (James 2:14-22).

I think James is saying that faith can only exist when you are acting in obedience to God. He uses the obedience of Abraham to illustrate this. The point is not that you can “earn” your salvation by doing certain works. Rather, the idea is that you are saved by faith, but you have to follow God’s commandments in order for that faith to be genuine faith. But it is important to consider exactly what the faith that James speaks of entails. In James’s epistle, the only references to Christ are on two occasions when James refers to Jesus as Lord. Thus, the “faith” that James refers to, which is dead without works, seems to simply be a claim of faith in the Divinity of Christ. Contrast that with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in which the whole epistle is centered on what Christ accomplished for humanity through His death and resurrection. Thus, Paul’s references to “faith” encompass a lot more than James’s references to faith alone.

Getting back to the question of, if we’re justified by faith, does it matter what we do, take a look at Paul’s answer to that question in Romans.

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1-11).

This is quite a different perspective from what James wrote. James’s answer had a very practical nature, highlighting the obedience of Abraham and Rahab to show that in order to have true faith you must do works in obedience to God.

In contrast to that practical explanation, Paul’s explanation is rather mystical, speaking of being joined with Christ in His death and resurrection and thus dying to sin and being raised to a new life where sin cannot dominate us. It is a very transformative message, and what Paul says is that we should consider ourselves to be vivified with Christ and free from sin’s dominion. What Paul implies in Chapters 7 and 8 is that believing in this transformation, rather than self-motivation to change one’s ways, is necessary to truly experiencing freedom from sin’s power. The next article takes a look at this in more detail.

Being a Real Christian – Part 3

In Romans 3:23-25, Paul reaches the conclusion that “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”

Remember that back in Romans 2:6-7, Paul wrote that “[God] will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Also 2:14-16: “When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”

In Chapter 2, Paul is very much indicating that it is possible to be saved on the basis of works. It is true that all have sinned (3:23), but Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Also note 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Also consider Hebrews 10:26, “If we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.”

The idea I see from Romans 2, 1st John, and Hebrews is that as long as people are not persisting in sin against the conviction of their conscience, they have forgiveness of their sins through Christ’s atonement. Romans 2 indicates that this principle applies to both Jews (who I think, in our day, are people associated with Christianity), and Greeks/Gentiles (who, I think, are everybody else you encounter today).

So, then, why be a believer? Well, notice that in Romans 3:23-25, quoted at the top of this article, Paul writes that those who have faith in Christ are justified by grace as a gift. This faith puts a person in a unique state. The forgiveness described in Romans 2, 1st John, and Hebrews is contingent on pursuing good works and following one’s conscience. However, the justification described in Romans 3 is a gift by grace, meaning that it is not merited by one’s performance. This unique state of justification cannot be attained by works given that all have sinned. The fact that this is not attained by works is described by Paul in Romans Chapters 3-5.

Now, what I am about to mention next is not widely taught among Christians, but I believe we’ll see later in Romans that the faith which brings a person into this unique state is a specific faith that goes beyond the baseline faith required to join the body of Christ. I think Romans 6-8 illustrates this, and we’ll look at that next time.