By Lynn Trapp
Recently, some preachers have tried to develop a system of justification in which faith is given preeminence over obedience to God’s revealed plan of salvation. Were these ideas coming from a Baptist or a Methodist preacher we would have no great cause for alarm. However, I am referring to men who call themselves gospel preachers, some who have been faithful preachers in years gone by.(1) Thus, brethren have reason to be concerned that souls will be deceived into believing error.
This new system is not entirely unique. It relies upon the rhetoric and vocabulary of Reformed Theologians such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Arthur W. Pink, and others.(2) Yet, many of these words and phrases are unique in that they are nothing more than borrowed terminology which have no basis in a correct understanding of their use in Reformed Doctrine. This is simply to say that these modern Reformers are not “classical” Calvinists or Lutherans, but accept the conclusions (faith only and imputed righteousness) without accepting the premises (unconditional election and imputed sin). Another unique feature of this new system is the attempt to include repentance, confession, and baptism in “faith” and to exclude them from “works.” This is done because these men cannot seem to understand how Paul could say that man is not “justified by the works of the law” and also say that a man must “do” something in order to be saved. Instead of the one offered by the New-Reformers, the solution to the supposed problem lies in a proper understanding of Bible language.
No Justification By Works Of The Law
When we read Paul’s statement “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3:20), several facts ought to be kept in mind. (1) He is dealing with the fact of sin in all men (v. 10). (2) The law under consideration is the law of Moses.(3) (3) He is establishing the validity of a system of justification which has the “obedience of faith” as the means of procuring the benefits of the death of Christ, which is the ground of our justification. The apostle further establishes that justification by the Law of Moses would demand sinlessness (Gal. 3:10). Yet, “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God;” therefore, that law which brought the knowledge of sin could do nothing for the sinner but establish his sinful condition before God. (4) When Paul mentions faith in this passage he is not talking about “faith only” or what one chose to call the “principle of faith alone.”(4) A careful examination of Rom. 3 should show the reader that Paul is teaching that the sinner cannot be pronounced righteous by a law which demands sinlessness, but that we now have a law, “a law of faith,” which provides for the forgiveness of the obedient.
Not Of Works
In Eph. 2:8-9, the sugar-stick of Baptist preachers, Paul said, “for by grace have you been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man would glory.” This passage has been worked and overworked in an attempt to prove that we are saved by faith only. One even went so far as to suggest that the punctuation might be wrong in verse 9.(5) Examining the passage, the reader finds that Paul is dealing with a special kind of works, i.e., works about which one boasts or glories. In true obedience to the word of God there is no such glorying. The plan of salvation is God’s plan (1 Cor. 1:26-29) and by the good works contained therein we are made the “workmanship” of God (Eph. 2:10).(6) This is the same point as is made in Tit. 3:5 where man is taught to rely on the grace and mercy of the Lord and not his own plans and schemes.(7)
Repentance, Confession, And Baptism – Works
The effort to remove repentance, confession, and baptism from the realm of works in ludicrous at the very best and laughable at the very worst. It is somewhat like a math saying he is going to lift a box with his arms but he is not going to use his muscles. The concept is based on a purely subjective and arbitrary definition of the word works. It claims, in essence, that work must always be referring to the same thing and can never refer to repentance, confession, and baptism. Such reasoning could be used to show that no command of God, i.e. Lord’s Supper and attendance, is a work, thus reducing the entire system to the absurdity of saying, “You must obey God’s commands, just do not call it that. Call it faith.” The end result would be the same except that those who continue to refer to Bible things with Bible words would be called cold and unfeeling.
Someone might ask, then, “Is this all a battle of semantics?” The answer is a resounding, “No!” The concept I have exposed here is just the tip of the ice-berg. This is a whole new concept; not Calvinistic and not Biblical; but borrowing rhetoric from both, making it a hodge-podge of platitudes which are meaningless and, most importantly, unscriptural.
The Relationship Of Faith And Works
The relationship between faith and works is very important. Faith is the principle of the heart which produces proper action on the part of the believer.(8) The faith of the ancients, Heb. 11, is set forth as the basis of their doing. Any other kind of doing would be useless, nonetheless, the doing was an integral part of their obtaining the reward. To have faith without works is as useless as an impoverished man trying to consume the oral blessings of his friends. He is just as hungry as before. Specifically, James said, “Faith apart from works is dead” (Jas. 2:26).(9) There are multitudes of passages which establish the need for obedience (Mt. 7:21; Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 2:13; Heb. 5:8-9; etc.), but our point is that obedience must proceed from faith in order to be of any value. “Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to Him” (Heb. 11:6). Cold, unfeeling ceremonialism will not save anyone.
In closing we want to emphasize that the problem of ceremonialism will not be solved by telling people that baptism is not a work but is a natural part of faith. Formalism does not relate to doctrines, but to attitudes. The Baptists and Methodists have taught faith only for hundreds of years and, yet, many of their churches are as cold and formalistic as any Catholic church on earth. Only by instilling true faith in God based upon the true revelation of the scriptures can we turn men into vibrant and active servants of the Lord.
1. Arnold Hardin, “It said we get wisdom through our own efforts in study and learning. The point being that since we obtain wisdom that way then we must obtain righteousness by our own efforts as well. These characteristics are not imputed to us! Such is absolutely nothing short of works righteousness by law-keeping instead of faith righteousness in Christ” (The Persuader, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Sept. 17, 1978, emphasis Hardin’s, LT). Billy Williams, “We are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8-10)., any work” (Truth Magazine, May 3, 1979, p. 9).
2. Brethren Hardin and Williams constantly use such unbiblical terms as “faith alone,” “imputed righteousness,” “forensic justification,” etc. These are Reformed concepts based upon an unscriptural doctrine of the sovereignty of God.
3. Some try to say that the absence of the definite article before the word “law” means that he is referring to any law. If there is any merit to the point, then the presence of the definite article in v. 19 shows that he has a specific law in mind, the Law of Moses. Also, if any law is under consideration then the law of Christ could justify no man. See also Gal. 3:11.
6. The word translated “unto” (KJV) and “for” (ASV) in Eph. 2:10 – “unto good works” – is from epi which means “that upon which any action, effect, condition, rests as a basis or support; -prop. upon the ground of (Thayer, p. 232). Hence, it is possible that the apostle is establishing good works as the basis of our being made the workmanship of God.
7. The contrast between “works of righteousness” and the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” ought to show the reader that the works of righteousness are not works of obedience to God.
9. That there is no contradiction between James and Paul can be seen when we understand that they were dealing with the same thing from a different standpoint. Paul is emphasizing what God has done for man in giving the plan of salvation. James is emphasizing what man must do in order to receive the benefits of the plan of salvation.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 11, pp. 161, 171
March 12, 1981