Edited By: Leslyn Kim
I want to keep this conclusion simple, but I also want to go out with a BANG. Why? I don’t know? The first two parts were a little boring, so I want to bring some spice to the conclusion and a hopefully a little humor to boot. So, hang with me for just a moment in the beginning of this blog post as I dive into some controversy that may shock some and irk others that I’m again turning over yet another gritty underside of Christian/Protestant history that rarely ever gets mainstream mention……
It’s no secret that Martin Luther had a disdain, or one could say, a low view of one particular book in the bible. The book of James, authored by the very half-brother of Jesus. It’s by far one of my favorite books in the bible It contains some of the sharpest and most pointed rebukes and statements. It steps on toes, and it’s not light-footed in doing so. I revere books likes James, Revelation, and Hebrews, because they contain so many undeniable briars and sticking points that make it impossible to squirm out from under parts of the bible that offend us all. God is beyond genius! None of us get’s “off the hook” per se, unless we willingly choose to.
For Martin Luther the book of James was an inexplicable nemesis to his doctrine of “Sola Fide”. Sola Fide is one of five doctrines used to define the core pillars of Protestantism. Sola Fide, or Faith Alone, means men are justified apart from works. In other words, men are elected by God, saved by his grace, and given the gift of faith to believe. God essentially does all of the heavy lifting so that no man can boast in his work toward salvation. For these very reasons, it only takes a brief read through the book of James to see why Martin Luther, the father of Protestant thinking (post-Augustine) had the following take on the book of James:
In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works. It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac; though in Romans 4 St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15. Now although this epistle might be helped and an interpretation devised for this justification by works, it cannot be defended in its application to works of Moses’ statement in Genesis 15. For Moses is speaking here only of Abraham’s faith, and not of his works, as St. Paul demonstrates in Romans 4. This fault, therefore, proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle.” – Martin Luther
The first addition of Luther’s Bible in the Preface To The New Testament (1522) he referred to the book of James in this way:
St. James epistle is an epistle of straw…. for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it“ – Martin Luther
To be fair, many Neo-Reformed apologists claim that his comment referring to James as an epistle of straw only appeared in the first edition, but was later removed by him for subsequent additions. Therefore, they feel that it’s intellectually dishonest to claim that his indifference toward James remained. That argument is usually made to downplay his disparaging view of the book of James. However, in a similar intellectually dishonest way they rarely mention the fact that he removed James from its typical order in the Lutheran bible and placed it in the appendix to the New Testament. That’s hardly reassuring.
Not surprisingly, this was not the only book of the bible that he took issue with. As a matter of fact, he attempted to have Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation removed from the Lutheran bible, but it didn’t go over very well with his followers. To this day, the latter mentioned books all appear at the end of the German-Lutheran bible.
Okay, so Luther’s taken enough punishment for now. What does Luther have to do with OSAS anyway? Well, people’s disparate views on OSAS or conditional salvation mainly comes down to this whole faith vs. works.So, let’s return back to the lingering question left over from part 2 of this blog series……
How can one believe in grace as a free gift, where good works do not earn salvation yet still hold that salvation is conditional? Aren’t the two in conflict with one another?
As I’ve researched this topic it became abundantly clear to me that no group (OSAS or CS) believes that salvation can be earned through good works or deeds (Ephesians 2:8). In addition, neither side disputes that faith is the means by which someone accepts the free gift of grace (Romans 10:9-10). Instead, the most fundamental disagreement stems from what faith is, how it’s attained, where it originates; and as it relates to salvation – what it looks like, and what it does. On that note, I’m going to keep this simple because I feel like I’ve already said too much on this whole topic. And I want to explore this deeper through another blog post on N.T. Wright’s recent (but not new) writings on Paul’s New Perspective
Conclusion: Faith is unique. It’s not a work, but when it’s authentic it accomplishes “work”
“Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.” – John Calvin
Faith and works are inseparable. True saving faith is accompanied by good works.
New International Version (NIV)
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
See how real faith expresses itself with action? It’s more than just “belief”. Unfortunately, because of people fear “good works” as being religious or works-based they revile any notion whatsoever of good works. Much of this has grown from a misunderstanding and failure to separate places where the bible refers to works as “works of the law” and “works” as in good deeds that lead to righteousness. I’ll refrain from writing more on this, because I want to reserve it for another blog later about N.T. Wright’s controversial “New Perspectives on Paul”. His most recent revisiting of a relatively old re-imaging of Paul’s epistles through the eyes of an authentic Jewish viewpoint is remarkable, controversial, and has quite literally rocked the boat of the new/trendy Neo-Reformed movement. For now, I’ll conclude with the following opinions.
Faith is something altogether unique. Faith is not a work, it can’t be worked toward and earned through good deeds. Faith is also not a singular gift. It a gift authentically expressed through good works. It’s a belief or hope that one holds to dearly, being fully convinced of something that’s drawn from initial seed or evidence that God has placed before all men to see (Hebrews 11). Faith is something that is ongoing, and not just a one-time event (Philippians 2:12, John 15:1-11). Yes, I reject the idea of equating Ephesians 2:8-9 to mean that both grace and faith are free gifts. No need to argue that out here, but I will say that the stories of Cornelius, Lydia, and the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13) are convincing evidence for me. I’m sure there’s some term or name for that type of biblical evidence (real people, real experiential stories) that they teach professionally trained seminarians. I think my scientific background and experience causes me to prefer this type of empirical evidence. At a minimum they’re solid proof, for me, that faith is not solely a “gift” given from God. It’s multifaceted, dynamic, spiritual exercise that both God and man must play a part in.
We’re saved through the personally maintained vehicle of faith, ignited (like the starting of a car) by the power of the Holy Spirit and perpetuated by the power of the Holy Spirit (like driving a car that’s already been started) – Philippians 2:13. Although the maintenance of it produces fruit in the form of good works, faith is distinctly and unique from good works or deeds. It breeds good works, but it is not a good work itself. Through faith in God’s son, Jesus Christ, we are saved (assuming we persevere to the end) by abiding in Him and His will. If we willing choose to walk away from his free gift of grace, we forsake him and are no longer saved (1 Timothy 1:19).
So, Once Saved Always Saved? Yes And Maybe No! Until next time on N.T. Wright’s New Perspectives