Grace Bible Church
Robert R. McLaughlin
The Doctrine of Justification. Part 6.
The Doctrine of Justification.
Point 1. Introduction.
Point 2. Etymology.
Point 3. Definition of “dikaiosune Theou” translated the “righteousness of God”.
Point 4. Justification is related to salvation adjustment to the justice of God in ROM 3:28; ROM 5:1; GAL 3:24.
Point 5. Justification is related to the principle of grace, ROM 3:24; TIT 3:7.
Point 6. Justification is not related to human works, ROM 3:20, 28; GAL 2:16.
Point 7. Mechanics of Justification, simply believe, GEN 15:6; ROM 3:22.
Point 8. The judgment of sin frees the justice of God for the blessing of justification.
Point 9. The correct interpretation of when mankind is justified by works, JAM 2:14-24.
Point 10. The conclusion: What does the just shall live by faith really mean?
Now, there have been questions concerning this principle as it relates especially to the book of James. Because James seems to say that we need to perform acts of good to be saved, spiritual and justified before God.
JAM 2:14-24, What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.
Now, that seems to be a contradiction to what we have noted in our doctrine of justification and what the Bible says about justification by works? Does the Bible contradict itself when it says in ROM 3:24 that we are justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus? Does the Bible contradict itself when it says in ROM 3:28, For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
Does the Bible contradict itself when it says in GAL 2:16, nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus,
And then in our passage it says JAM 2:21-25, Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works, when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
So what is the issue and the answer to this passage? I gave some isagogics concerning this passage that explains why James wrote what he wrote in this Epistle. It’s important to note that the book of James was written to the 12 tribes of Israel who were really the first converts to the Church-age according to JAM 1:1, James, a bond‑servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.
Now, at the time, the early Christian Jews were being persecuted because of their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jerusalem had become a terrible place to live. It was also one of the most horrible places to visit and it was filled with religious evil. Jerusalem was so filled with religion and legalism that the born again Jews in the city had been persecuted and contaminated by it. Many of them had become legalistic. They had become indifferent toward Bible doctrine.
So added to their divine discipline for rejecting the word of God, many of them were also under persecution from other Jews as well. That is what religion and self-righteousness produces. And so, as a result of mixing legalism with Christianity they were in great danger. The only hope for the Jews at Jerusalem and those who had been scattered abroad was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and a knowledge of Bible doctrine.
This epistle was designed to get people into Bible doctrine and the application of that doctrine to their experience. This is why James said in JAM 1:22, But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. Now, with this as our background in look at the passage again. JAM 2:14, What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? The key word here is the word for “save” is the verb sozo which means to save, to deliver, to protect, to heal, to preserve, to make whole.
How you translate the word depends upon the context in view. Here, we are talking about Jewish brothers and sisters who have need for logistics, we are not talking about salvation. This is why he says in JAM 2:15, If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
What does that mean even so your faith if it doesn’t have any works, is a dead faith. You are not living in you ambassadorship. You have literally, even though you’re not under the Law, you have broken the Law. You have now loved others as you do yourself and you have also taken the name of the Lord in vain, claiming to be His ambassador but ignoring the responsibility of an ambassador. You have rejected 1JO 3:17, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
You have violated GAL 6:10, So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. You have not followed HEB 6:10, For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. Why? Because your faith is dead! Your doctrine is dead and not alive in you and you faith-rest live is not functioning within you.
You are a walking spiritual zombie. You are living in cosmic death or carnal death. In fact, look at JAM 1:14-16, But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
The point is that the word save in this passage has nothing to with salvation but has to with a brother helping a brother in time of need. So we are talking about your faith being dead. This is why we have warnings in the Bible to beware of becoming dead while you are alive because your faith is dead! For example, ROM 8:6, “For the mind set on the flesh [old sin nature] is dead [cosmic death], but the mind set on the Spirit is life and prosperity.”
ROM 8:13, “For if you are living according to the flesh [old sin nature], you must die [cosmic death], but if you through the Holy Spirit are putting to death the production of the flesh, you live.”
EPH 5:14, “Wake up, you sleeping ones and rise up from the dead [cosmic death] and Christ will shine on you.”
1TI 5:6, “But that widow who constantly indulges in wanton pleasure has died while living.”
REV 3:1, “I have known your accomplishments, that you have a reputation that you’re living, but you are dead.”
1JO 3:14, “We know that we have changed our residence from the realm of death [cosmic system] to [the Christian way of] life.”
You see, on the surface this particular passage in James seems to contradict everything that we have learned in the doctrine of justification…yet with further study it is not. And either the Bible contradicts itself or there must always be a logical interpretation for what appears on the surface. Back in JAM 2:14, What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
James is actually saying what is the advantage, benefit or profit to a believer if he does not have something to show the unbeliever. James knew the spiritual life of the Old Testament believers, which was basically to operate in the faith-rest drill, looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and looking forward to the coming of the kingdom. That’s why HEB 11:13, All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
So James reasoned based upon the Old Testament faith-rest drill about Abraham and Rahab. So that in Jam 2, he deals with two concepts. And it seems like the concepts are antithetical and they are not. Now let me reiterate why this passage is so vital to understand with three important principles.
- Those who deny the Bible’s authenticity, they claim that this passage proves the Bible contradicts itself.
- This passage is used by others to add works to salvation by saying man must work with God to be justified. Therefore, salvation by works.
- This is the main passage that brought in the Protestant Reformation and the rejection of Roman Cat holism and its dogma.
The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that divided Christians in Catholic Europe. In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII challenged the pope’s authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice. They argued for the Bible to be brought back into the church by claiming that it had to be taught as a life and not a religion. Luther spent his early years as a monk and scholar but in 1517 Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. His “95 Theses,” proposed two central beliefs—that the Bible is the central spiritual authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds.
It was Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed a list of grievances against the Catholic Church onto the door of a chapel in Wittenberg, Germany; his “Ninety-five Theses” became the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. What was the gist of what hung on the door that changed the Christian world? It was in effect the words “The just shall live by faith.” Now in the book of James, he was focusing in on the faith-rest drill as a spiritual life skill, not salvation.
JAM 2:14, What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
James is actually saying what is the advantage, benefit or profit to a believer if he does not have something to show the unbeliever. Now, one of the key words in this passage is the word says, which is lego which means that he keeps on alleging something, he keeps on maintaining something. Now, we also need to note the word for faith here. We have the noun pistin which does not mean doctrine, it is minus the definite article and here it refers to faith or the faith-rest life. The faith-rest life was considered to be the spiritual life for the Old Testament believers. Actually it refers to Bible doctrine on the launching pad of the soul being utilized in situations resulting in works accepted by God not human good.
JAM 2:14, What use is it or profit, my brethren, if a man keeps on alleging that he keeps on having and holding faith, but he has no works or literally in the Greek, suppose he has no works? Works is the noun ergons which can refer to human good, deeds, divine production, here it refers to anything that is based upon Bible doctrine producing divine good not human good. In this passage, ergon refers to the production of doctrine, or doctrine being launched either inwardly or overtly.
REV 20:12-13; this word is translated deeds and refers to human good, which will not be accepted by God at the Great White Throne Judgment. Literally then, JAM 2:14 says, What use is it or profit, my brethren, if a man keeps on alleging that he keeps on having and holding faith, but he keeps on not having production?
Next we have the rhetorical question? Can that faith save him? Can is the pres-act-ind of dunamai which means to be able. Notice that this is in the present tense because we are not talking about salvation in this passage, we are talking about deliverance. The pres-act-ind of dunamai means is that faith of the believer able to deliver the individual who has a need. And who is that?
Well, look at the passage again JAM 2:15-18, If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Please notice that this passage has nothing to do with salvation but it has to do with the production of divine good. Can faith same him refers to the faith-rest exhale or applying doctrine to a situation. Can that faith or save or deliver? The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of faith is in view here. Can faith save? The answer is, “Yes faith can save in salvation.” But James is not talking about salvation. And that’s why we read in verse 21, Abraham was justified by works. When? When he offered Isaac, not when he believed in Jesus Christ.
When Abraham believed in Jesus Christ that was exhale faith as an unbeliever and at that time he was Abram. Remember GEN 15:6, Abram believed in the Lord and it was credited to his account for righteousness. When Abraham offered his son Isaac that was exhale faith as a believer over 40 years after his salvation.
So the main problem in Jam 2 when it says a person is justified by works refers to deliverance not salvation. Every time someone sees the word save they automatically assume that it refers to eternal salvation, and it doesn’t. For example sozo is used in MAT 8:25, And they came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, “Save [sozo] us, Lord; we are perishing!” They weren’t asking for eternal salvation, they were asking for deliverance in a storm.
In JOH 12:27, “Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save [sozo] Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. The Lord wasn’t asking for eternal salvation but for deliverance.
MAT 10:22, “And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved [sozo].” This is a sad one that proponents of “losing your salvation” try and use to say you must endure to be saved, which is nothing more than legalism and human good. If you believe that saved refers to eternal salvation all the time, this verse would seem to suggest you can lose your salvation if you do not endure.
However this verse refers to deliverance. Look at ACT 27:31, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, “Unless these men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be [sozo] saved.”
And so here is another principle which has been totally distorted, perverted and abused by the kingdom of darkness which promotes creature credit whenever possible. So we actually have a dual warning in this doctrine, we need to beware of dead works and we need to watch out for dead faith. Without the production of divine good, our faith is dead.
So James says JAM 2:17, Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
The word for dead is nekros, and it refers to being destitute of force or power, and therefore inactive and inoperative. The principle then: Your faith must have a working object and Bible doctrine is the working object of faith. When Bible doctrine is the working object of your faith then you have the production of divine good not human good. It is doctrine that does the work and therefore there is no place for any human good or human glory or boasting and no place for any of us to say that we have done this and we have done that. It is strictly who and what God is and what He has provided. He found a way for His power to function in us while we are in the devil’s world, the filling of the Spirit influencing and hopefully controlling our soul and the application of Bible doctrine producing divine good not human good.
The one thing that Satan despises to see functioning in his kingdom, which is this world system, is the power of the Spirit and the word of God in operation in a believer’s life. Satan hates doctrine because he knows that it is powerful…it is dynamic. And he just laughs at all the idiots running around trying to change themselves, change others and then change the world with their human good. Their faith is dead, nekros, destitute of force and power, inactive and inoperative.
So James says, JAM 2:17, Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. Faith cannot be alone…it must have a working object. Who did all the work at salvation? Jesus Christ. We didn’t do any of it. ho does the work after salvation? The power of the Holy Spirit using residual doctrine as our volition makes a decision to apply the word of God to a situation. After salvation, Bible doctrine becomes the working object or the object that works for your faith.
JAM 2:18, But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
It is the object of faith that counts and that’s why James talks about the demons in verse 19.
JAM 2:19, You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
You can say I believe in the existence of God, but that doesn’t save you. In the human race, salvation has one working object, there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. There’s just one working object, The Lord Jesus Christ. Then after salvation, there’s still only one working object, Bible doctrine is the working object of faith.
JAM 2:20-21, But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
Abraham had two kinds of justification. Justification before God by believing in the Lord in GEN 15:6. Justification before man in JAM 2:21. After salvation Abraham did something where a maximum amount of doctrine was used when he was willing to offer up his son Isaac on the altar. And as a result he was vindicated by what he did and identified as a mature believer and called a friend of God. It is the application of that doctrine that you’ve learned which is what we call justification by works.
JAM 2:22-23, You see that faith [using his doctrine] was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected or the doctrine was completed or fully developed; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness [his salvation],” and he was called the friend of God [quotation from 2CH 20:7 or ISA 41:8, and a reference to his justification by works].
So that is how we interpret faith without works being dead, it has nothing to do with salvation by works.