Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Justification: Does Paul Contradict James?

Some have said that Paul and James contradict each other on the doctrine of justification. Paul says, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law" (Rom 3:28), but James says, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas 2:24). At face value, Paul seems to be saying we are justified by faith alone, while James seems to be saying that we are justified by works and not by faith alone. But, the solution to this apparent contradiction is that Paul and James are using the word "justified" in two different senses. Paul is saying that we are declared to be righteous before God through faith on the basis of Christ's righteousness. James is saying that our works show or demonstrate our righteousness.

Careful attention to the context of James 2 proves that James is thinking of demonstrations of righteousness. Here are a few lines of evidence.

1. James 2:21 says, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?" The timing of Abraham's justification by works is important. Abraham was first justified by faith in Genesis 15:6, where we're told, "And he believed the LORD and it was counted to him as righteousness." But, Abraham's offering up of Isaac doesn't occur until Genesis 22. So, James is not saying that Abraham was justified by works when he first believed, but only when his initial justification was later evidenced by the works of faith. Abraham's works were demonstrations of a previous justification.

2. James 2:22 says, "Faith was completed by his works." But, what does it mean that "works" complete "faith?" This same Greek word translated "complete" is used in 2 Corinthians 12:9, where God says, "My power is made perfect (completed) in weakness." God can't be saying that His power only truly becomes power in weakness. Rather, He is saying that His power is evidenced in our weakness. In the same way, our faith is evidenced, or completed, by our works. James is talking about evidence in this passage; so, he must be using the word "justified" differently than Paul.

3. The second chapter of James uses a number terms that mean "demonstrate." James says, "show me your faith" (James 2:18), "I will show you my faith" (James 2:18), "Do you want to be shown" (Jas 2:20), "You see that faith was active" (Jas 2:22), "You see" (Jas 2:24). Since the theme of the passage is "showing" and "seeing," it makes most sense to read James' understanding of the word "justified" in that light.

4. It is clear from other passages that "demonstration" is well within the range of the meaning of the word "justified." For example, in Matthew 11:19, Jesus says, "Wisdom is justified by her deeds." It would make no sense to interpret that verse to mean "Wisdom is made to be wisdom by her deeds" or "wisdom is constituted righteous by her deeds." Instead, Jesus is saying that "wisdom is evidenced/demonstrated to be wisdom by her deeds."

In conclusion, Paul and James are using the word "justified" in two different senses. Paul is talking about what makes us righteous before God (Christ alone by faith alone), while James is talking about what proves our righteousness before God (faith working through love).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Is “Knocking on Doors” a Good Method of Evangelism?

I would argue that the best method of evangelism is what we might call “integrated evangelism,” which involves living like Christ and speaking of Christ at the baseball fields, in restaurants, in our business relationships, at the workplace, and with our neighbors as we go about all of life. It means looking for opportunities to serve others and meet the needs of those around us every day, doing good in the name of Jesus Christ. We ought to become strategic about faithful presence and proclamation in every aspect of life. But, if you can't say that you are already faithful in that wholistic way, and if you know you ought do better at keeping Christ's commandment to preach the gospel out of joy in Him and love to Him, then may I commend Morningview's G.R.A.C.E. ministry to you? Some have thoughtful objections to “knocking on doors” to proclaim the gospel. Let me address just a few of them.

It is One-Dimensional.
Some have suggested that proclaiming the gospel on someone's doorstep may deliver the Word of Christ, but it lacks demonstrations of love and kindness, and so it is one-dimensional. But, the Bible says to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15), which means it must be possible to demonstrate love in the way we speak to others. If we visit homes and proclaim the gospel, not just to do our monthly duty of evangelism, but from sincere love for God and His glory, and out of an earnest love and care for the souls of sinners, then others will be able to perceive it. If we can't express love for others in how we speak to them, in the way we show concern for them personally, in the sincerity, kindness, and urgency of our tone of voice, then the problem may be with our sanctification, not with any given method of evangelism. How do we develop an earnestness for souls? We do that by knowing and loving Jesus more. There was none more earnest for the salvation of sinners than our Savior. If we love Him, we'll become like Him.

It is Too Much Like a Sales Visit.
Too many salesmen convince people they have a need they don't really have, and then they try to sell a product that doesn't really benefit the buyer. But, preaching the law and the gospel is about showing sinners that they have an urgent need that they don't know they have and can't know they have. Satan has “blinded the minds of unbelievers” (2 Cor 4:4), which means unregenerate sinners will always think you're trying to sell them something. They don't see that their sin is outright rebellion against their Creator, and consequently, they don't see that they must be reconciled to a holy God through the blood of Christ. They will never see it apart from the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. This means we shouldn't get too caught up in how lost people perceive our work of evangelism. They will never approve of it, until God changes their hearts. Historically speaking, the road to serious theological error has often come through compromises designed to get sinners to approve of evangelism and missions. Christ was the perfect evangelist, full of love and mercy. They killed Him for it. Let us follow Him.

It is Not Enough Time to Present the Whole Gospel.
The total gospel is revealed in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. We are all still learning the many nuances and inter-connections of all the facets of the gospel of Jesus Christ and how it changes our thinking and daily living. So, it is true that an afternoon visit on someone's doorstep can never communicate everything the gospel communicates. But, it is possible to communicate the basic apostolic teaching about salvation in Jesus Christ in a very brief period of time. That basic message is found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, “Now I would remind you, brothers of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” That basic message is what the Holy Spirit uses to open up sinful minds and hearts. Let us be faithful to sow the seed He has provided.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Should the Church Preach the Social Gospel?

I was re-reading Martin Lloyd Jones' book, Preaching and Preachers, in preparation for our elders meeting tonight and benefitted again from wise words about the social gospel and the church. To summarize, Lloyd Jones says the primary means of grace given to the church is the Word of Christ. While she goes about her task of preaching the gospel, the church will incidentally educate, provide knowledge, make men good, improve social conditions, etc., but none of those things is the means God gave the church to build the kingdom.

He writes:
Take all this new interest in the social application of the Gospel, and the idea of going to live amongst the people and to talk politics and to enter into their social affairs and so on. . . . The very thing that is regarded as so new today has already been tried, and tried with great thoroughness in the early part of this century.

The answer is that they were failures, they were proved to be failures . . . I have no hesitation in asserting that what was largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain was that 'social gospel' preaching and the institutional church.

The Church has been trying to preach morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis; it has been preaching morality without godliness; and it simply does not work. It never has done, and it never will.

Lloyd Jones is not saying that the Gospel doesn't apply to, or have an impact on all of life, culture, society, politics, etc., when it is faithfully lived out. He writes, "My argument is that when the church performs her primary task, these other things invariably result from it." He's saying that the *local church* is not to concentrate on any of these things, or try to use any of these things, as a means of building the kingdom of God. He says that preaching is the primary means of kingdom building.

I would agree that while the preached Word is the primary means, the local church is to use the Word, prayer, and sacrament as the ordinary means of grace in its worship, discipleship, discipline, and mission.

What do you think?