Faith vs. Works / blind faith discussed

Our good works are the dancing which follows in response to the Music we hear by faith. First the Music… then the dancing… not the other way ‘round. Our good works are the result, not the cause, of salvation (the Music).

Do you hear the Music of God’s saving grace?

Listen:

Jesus (God the Son) laid down His life on the cross (John 3:14-16) as an act of eternal, unconditional love for every soul (John 12:32), settling, once and for all, our debt of death (Hebrews 10:1-18), which is the consequent of sin [violating the royal law of Love (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5; Matt. 7:12, 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) – Rom 3:23, 6:23]. This is how God shows us that He loves us no matter what (1 John 4:9, Romans 5:8). He rose from the dead, defeating death, and He promises eternal life to those who accept it: John 3:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:3-6; 1 John 5:11-13. This is the Music we dance to.

So, every now and then a question comes up about whether we are saved by faith (hearing the music) or by works (dancing even if we don’t hear the music), due to a misinterpretation of James 2:14-16. I’ll type it up, give you some NASB notes, and follow some of the referenced verses.

“14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 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? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. 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.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 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. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 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? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

NASB note vv. 14-26: In vv. 14-20, 24, 26 “faith” is not used in the sense of genuine, saving faith. Rather, it is demonic (v. 19), useless (v. 20) and dead (v. 26). It is a mere intellectual acceptance of certain truths without trust in Christ as Savior. James is also not saying that a person is saved by works and not by genuine faith. Rather, he is saying, to use Martin Luther’s words, that a man is justified (declared righteous before God) by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Genuine faith will produce good deeds, but only faith in Christ saves. (For more information on justification see note on Rom 3:21-31).

NASB note vv. 15-16: This illustration of false faith is parallel to the illustration of false love found in 1 John 3:17. The latter passage calls for love in action; this one calls for faith in action.

NASB note v. 18: “You have faith and I have works.” The false claim is that there are “faith” Christians and “works” Christians, i.e., that faith and deeds can exist independently of eachother. “show me your faith without the works.” Irony; James denies the possibility of this.

NASB note v. 21: Apart from its context, this verse might seem to contradict the Biblical teaching that people are saved by faith and not by good deeds (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16). But James means only that righteous action is evidence of genuine faith—not that it saves, for the verse (Gen 15:6) that he cites (v. 23) to substantiate his point says, “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it [i.e., faith, not works] to him as righteousness.” Furthermore, Abraham’s act of faith recorded in Gen 15:6 occurred before he offered up Isaac, which was only a proof of the genuineness of his faith. As Paul wrote, the only thing that matters is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Faith that saves produces deeds.

NASB note v. 23: “the friend of God.” This designation (see 2 Chr 20:7) further describes Abraham’s relationship to God as one of complete acceptance.

NASB note v. 24: “not by faith alone.” Not by an intellectual assent to certain truths.

Next up: Romans 3:21-31, Galatians 2:16-21 and 5:6.

Romans 3:21-31

“21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary; we establish the Law.”

NASB note v. 24: “justified.” Paul uses the Greek verb for “justified” 27 times, mostly in Romans and Galatians. It is translated by some form of the English work “justify” 24 times, by “freed” three times (6:7,18,22), by “acquitted” once (1 Cor 4:4) and by “vindicated” once (1 Tim 3:16). The term describes what happens when someone believes in Christ as His Savior: From the negative viewpoint, God declares the person to be not guilty; from the positive viewpoint, He declares him to be righteous. He cancels the guilt of the person’s sin and credits righteousness to him. Paul emphasizes two points in this regard: 1. No one lives a perfectly good, holy, righteous life. On the contrary, “there is none righteous” (v.10), and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v.23). “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (v.20). 2. But even though all are sinners and not sons, God will declare everyone who puts his trust in Jesus not guilty but righteous. This legal declaration is valid because Christ died to pay the penalty for our sin and lived a life of perfect righteousness that can in turn be imputed to us. This is the central theme of Romans and is stated in the theme verse, 1:17 (“the righteousness of God”). Christ’s righteousness (His obedience to God’s law and His sacrificial death) will be credited to believers as their own. Paul uses the word “credited” nine times in ch. 4 alone. “as a gift by His grace.” The central thought in justification is that, although man clearly totally deserves to be declared guilty (vv.9-19), because of his trust in Christ God declares him righteous. This is stated in several ways here: (1) “as a gift” (for nothing), (2) “by His grace,” (3) “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” and (4) “through faith” (v. 25).

Galatians 2:16-21

“16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. 17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

NASB note v. 16: A key verse in Galatians (see Introduction: Theological Teaching). Three times it tells us that no one is justified by observing the law, and three times it underscores the indispensable requirement of placing one’s faith in Christ. “justified by faith.” The essence of the gospel message (see Rom 3:20,28; Phil 3:9; see also notes on Rom 3:24,28). Faith is the means by which justification is received, not its basis. “by the works of the Law.” Paul is not depreciating the Law itself, for he cleary maintained that God’s Law is “holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). He is arguing against illegitimate use of the OT Law that made the observance of that Law the grounds of acceptance with God.

NASB note v. 21: “Christ died needlessly.” To mingle legalism with grace distorts grace and makes a mockery of the cross.

Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” NASB note: “faith working through love.” Faith is not mere intellectual assent (see James 2:18-19) but a loving trust in God’s grace that expresses itself in acts of love (see 1 Thess 1:3).

Philippians 3:9 “and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,”. NASB note: “righteousness…from the Law.” See note on v. 6.

Philippians 3:6 “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” NASB note: “righteousness…in the Law.” Righteousness produced by using the Law as an attempt to merit God’s approval and blessing (cf. v.9)—a use of the Law strongly opposed by Paul as contrary to the gospel itself. “blameless.” In terms of legalistic standards of scrupulous external conformity to the Law. Ichthus: this verse really must be read in its context to understand fully what Paul is talking about here. See Philippians chapter 3.

Jesus’ death did make it obvious that God loves us no matter what (nothing changed – but it was something we had to learn in time) – but that does not mean we no longer strive for excellence. A true interaction with God motivates us toward excellence, because we know He loves us regardless of imperfection. It makes slipping into the muck (made discernable by the Law) seem so utterly pointless.

Matthew 6:13 “And do not lead us into temptation” can also be translated “and do not put us to the test” – “but deliver us from evil.” I point that out because maybe there are others like myself who read that verse and at first think it implies God leads us into temptation (why else would we ask Him not to?) – whereas other verses say God does not lead us into temptation. The temptation (by Satan) of Jesus was a divinely intended test – He was lead into it by the Spirit (Matt 4:1-11). It was Satan who afflicted Job, but God who allowed it, to prove Job’s faith was genuine and not all calamity is God’s judgment. Neither tests resulted in sin, and both show how Satan is under God’s control. God does not tempt to sin, God does not want us to sin (James 1:13; 1 Cor 7:5). Does that mean that where there is sin, God’s sovereignty has stopped (another thought that entered my head)? No. Our freedom to reject love and responsibility to choose love is a built-in part of this grand creation over which God is sovereign. That we choose to reject love, that we choose to sin in His creation, does not equate to His endorsing what we chose – but it does equate to His endorsing “choice”. Without the possibility of rejecting God’s love (at the root of all sin), there is no possibility to choose it. Love must be chosen – it cannot be forced upon us. So Matthew 6:13 is acknowledging God as sovereign – Jesus just as well could have said, “Let us not wander off and get lost in sin – but lead us with the rest of the fold, away from the wolves who won’t come near your rod and staff without consequence.” Of course, Jesus said it much more concisely.

1 Cor 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Always look for the way of escape – recognize it as provided by God. There is no greater feeling of victory than to overcome temptation by the power of God.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21.

***

Now that that’s settled – I direct your attention to an excerpt of Richard Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene” – chapter 11: “Memes: the new replicators” – available on-line – or at least it was at one time:

“Another member of the religious meme complex is called faith. It means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. The story of Doubting Thomas is told, not so that we shall admire Thomas, but so that we can admire the other apostles in comparison. Thomas demanded evidence. Nothing is more lethal for certain kinds of meme than a tendency to look for evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation. The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.”

Here is note seven of chapter 11 (ibid) titled “Blind faith can justify anything.” –

“I have had the predictable spate of letters from faith’s victims, protesting about my criticisms of it. Faith is such a successful brainwasher in its own favor, especially a brainwasher of children, that it is hard to break its hold. But what, after all, is faith? It is a state of mind that leads people to believe something—it doesn’t matter what—in the total absence of supporting evidence. If there were good supporting evidence then faith would be superfluous, for the evidence would compel us to believe it anyway. It is this that makes the often-parroted claim that ‘evolution is a matter of faith’ so silly. People believe in evolution not because they arbitrarily want to believe it but because of overwhelming, publicly available evidence.

“I said ‘it doesn’t matter what’ the faithful believe, which suggests that people have faith in entirely daft, arbitrary things, like the electric monk in Douglas Adam’s delightful Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. He was purpose-built to do your believing for you, and very successful at it. On the day that we meet him, he unshakingly believes, against all the evidence, that everything in the world is pink. I don’t want to argue that things in which a particular individual has faith are necessarily daft. They may or may not be. The point is that there is no way of deciding whether they are, and no way of preferring one article of faith over another, because evidence is explicitly eschewed. Indeed the fact that true faith doesn’t need evidence is held up as its greatest virtue; this was the point of my quoting the story of the Doubting Thomas, the one really admirable member of the apostles.

“Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it). But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness. It leads people to believe in whatever it is so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and die for it without the need for further justification. Keith Henson has coined the name ‘memeoids’ for ‘victims that have been taken over by a meme to the extent that their own survival becomes inconsequential … You see lots of these people on the evening news from such places as Belfast or Beirut’. Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes them against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr’s death will send them straight to heaven. What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb.”

I am not prepared to discuss the issue of faith (God) and war. I will have to do a study on that in the near future, especially considering its relevance to the war on terror. But for now I ask you to patiently set it aside.

Tim Keller defines religion as “a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing. For example, some think that this material world is all there is, that we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you. Notice that, though this is not an explicit ‘organized’ religion, it contains a master narrative, an account about the meaning of life along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things. … All who say ‘You ought to do this’ or ‘You shouldn’t do that’ reason out of such an implicit moral and religious position,” (2; 15). So if Dawkins’ reasoning on the faith meme is accurate… even he is infected with it.

However, Dawkins fails to note that though Thomas doubted (no doubt the reason Dawkins considers him the most admirable of the apostles) – he was not rejected – he was given the evidence he needed (John 20:27). Dawkins says the other apostles’ faith is held up as worthy of imitation – but that is a false inference. They all thought they were seeing a ghost when Jesus appeared (Luke 24:37). Faith is believing what is promised. What was promised was Jesus’ resurrection. Thomas, like the others, doubted (and didn’t even fully understand) the promise until he saw evidence of its fulfillment. Jesus’ words had the same meaning as if a capable husband said to his doubting wife, “Have a little faith in me.” Her doubting was no blessing to her or to their relationship. Having faith would have blessed her and their relationship. Jesus was not advocating blind faith in incapable people, nor did He withhold evidence from the doubters. In many events recorded in the Bible is a sign given to reassure someone that the message they are receiving is from God.

No where in the Bible is blind faith advocated — we are instructed to test the spirits (to make sure the teacher is not teaching false doctrine) (1 John 4:1), to examine everything (1 Thess. 5:21). If blind faith were truly important, there would be no emphasis on discriminating between true and false teachers.

Faith and reason are not in conflict. The only one capable of certain knowledge is one whom is omniscient (God). All other forms of knowledge are varying degrees of faith (belief that), the stronger forms grounded in good reasoning and good evidence. Just because we are rational beings does not mean our reasoning is always without error — it is a skill/ability that needs exercise, just like an athlete must work to maintain athletic strength and ability. Our intuition is a source of rational knowledge acquired without the effort of reasoning, but (because we are not omniscient God) not an infallible source — good reasoning can fine-tune and sharpen our intuitions (bad reasoning can warp them). You cannot prove the existence of God, you can only weigh the clues… some gleaned intuitively… some arrived at by the use of reason… some revealed by God Himself (God’s being love requires that He has made Himself manifest, and that the evidence is on display). What God reveals of His rational-intuitive self will appeal to both God-given intuition and God-given reason (provided the intuition is not warped and the reasoning is not ‘bad’ — a condition God can heal). And even if you conclude that all the clues point to the existence of God (and reveal the nature of God), that is only intellectual assent (belief that) — more is required of you, due to the nature of God (Love). Your entire heart… faith (belief in)… the highest form of love (worship). This leap of faith is a rational one.

***

Happiness is the inner well-being resulting from being at peace with God.

“The Simple Truth about Happiness” by therapist Bethany A. Marshall leaves unanswered the question philosophers are asking when they ask “What is happiness?” In stating “Happiness is possessing the strength of character to make good choices,” which is “the by-product of good choices made daily, rather than a quick fix,” miss Marshall does not define what constitutes a good choice, nor does she define happiness. If she were to answer that a good choice is one that, when combined with other daily choices of a similar nature, produces a person characterized by happiness, the question “What is happiness?” reemerges.

In the history of philosophy there have been many attempts to define happiness, even to set it as the ultimate good. The question of happiness is one of what really matters, and that we experience a loving relationship with God and eachother is what really matters*. Happiness – a better word for it might be “blessedness” – is not “an emotion often dependent on outward circumstances,”** and it “refers to ultimate well-being and distinctive spiritual joy.”** Another way to describe the state of happiness or blessedness is as the peace of God – “not merely a psychological state of mind, but an inner tranquility based on peace with God”***. Miss Marshall says there is no quick fix toward happiness, but those who get right with God know that this happiness is granted in a defining moment, whereas good choices, rather than being a path to happiness as Marshall argues, are the output of a person who is already at peace with God. True happiness is not earned by good acts, but accepted by faith. Concepts labeled happiness which don’t fit the above definition are rooted in the temporal and so can be diminished by the trials and hardships of this life. Experiencing the not always rewarding feeling produced by Golden Rule^ choices is not the same as the spiritual joy, the inner tranquility, the well-being which motivates those choices even in the midst of adversity.

Even when a person is at peace with God, even when they have the motivation to make Golden Rule^ choices, they may find themselves on miss Marshall’s couch, benefiting from her education in conflict management. Their therapy will prove more successful in the long run, if they maintain a heart-to-heart with God, paid in full.

* See Mark 12:28-31; Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14
** Excerpt from study note on Matthew 5:3, Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible, 1999.
*** Excerpt from study note on Philippians 4:7, Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible, 1999.
^ See Matthew 7:12*

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About Maryann

Maryann Spikes is the past President of the Christian Apologetics Alliance and now coordinates the CAA Catechism. She blogs at Ichthus77, and loves apologetics and philosophy. In particular she loves to study all things Euthyphro Dilemma and Golden Rule. A para-educator (autism) for five years, she holds a Certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, an AA in Humanities via Modesto Junior College, and moonlights as a freelancer. You can follow her on Twitter @Ichthus77, connect with the Ichthus77 community on Facebook, or look her up on Google+.
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One Response to Faith vs. Works / blind faith discussed

  1. Ichthus says:

    One could argue — A) If we have free will, then we don’t need God, because we are free already, and B) If we don’t have free will, then we don’t need God to save us, because we’re not responsible for our sin. However — God wants us to love Him willfully, so He gives us ways to exercise and experience the limits of our will. Hence, faith. We are responsible as far as we are aware (that’s the ‘exercise our will’ part) — and, we need God because the purpose of our will is ultimately a love we will never realize apart from God (that’s the ‘experience the limits of our will’ part, as is anything else that teaches us we are not omni-anything, not God, the greatest of these being omnibenevolence). God has shown us a love regardless of circumstances, and it takes faith (confidence in that love) to live/love regardless of circumstances, motivated by and toward that love (which, in action, looks pretty crazy when contrasted with the way the world lives/loves).

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