Not Of Works, Lest Anyone Should Boast

Not of works

When Paul says, in Ephesians 2:8-9, “not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” and “not of works, lest anyone should boast,” and does so in contrast with salvation “by grace through faith,” he is referring to man’s performance under a system of justification by perfect law-keeping (viz., the deeds, works, or works of law which we, as creatures, have failed to perform perfectly). Having been saved by grace through faith, but not at the point of faith, as many have mistakenly thought, one is able to do, according to Ephesians 2:10, those “good works” which the Father “beforehand” created us in Christ Jesus to do.

These good works are prescribed by the law-code we are obligated to obey “under law to Christ.” These good works are the very same works that James says are done by those who Paul said, and James agrees, are saved by grace through faith. These “good works,” as Paul referred to them, or “works,” as James called them, are not done in order to be saved. Instead, they are works to be done by those who are, and remain, saved.

However, if a Christian refused to do these good works (works he is obligated to do in his Creator-creature relationship), he would no longer be walking in the light and, as such, would no longer have access to God’s grace through the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 1:5-9). At the same time, and some just can’t seem to get their minds wrapped around this point, for the one doing these good works of the law-code (a law-code that can no longer save because all are sinners), there are, and remain, conditions of grace which must be obeyed. Without obedience to these grace conditions, one simply cannot be, nor remain, saved/justified. This means that these grace conditions, contrary to law conditions, are things (or works) we must do in order to access the grace available to us through the Lord’s sacrifice. It is in this way (i.e., by these grace conditions) that we ARE (by believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized) and REMAIN (by continuing to believe, repent, and confess Jesus as Lord) saved.

Romans 3:28 Vs. James 2:24: Are They Really Contradictory?

Faith and Works

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28).

You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only (Jas. 2:24).

My understanding of these two passages is that when everything is said and done, Paul and James are not talking about two different kinds of works. Instead, they are speaking of “good works” (i.e., acceptable works, which are the same for both, especially considering Paul’s use of “good works” in Ephesians 2:10). So, the question is: What is the explanation for the different ways Paul and James relate faith and works to justification? The best answer, I think, is that faith and works are both related to justification but in different ways. In other words, Paul and James are referring to the SAME FAITH, SAME WORKS, SAME PEOPLE, and SAME JUSTIFICATION and are, thus, in complete agreement on all of these. The difference is in the way they have chosen, by inspiration, to express themselves, and this derives from how the relationship between faith and works is to be understood.

Paul is emphasizing the IMMEDIATE, DIRECT, INHERENT relationship between faith and justification; James, on the other hand, is emphasizing the NECESSARY, BUT INDIRECT, relationship between works and justification. Thus, like James, we can say that justification is by works, but only in a SECONDARY, INDIRECT SENSE, in that works are the natural, necessary expression and evidence of faith. It is important just here to keep in mind that the works (i.e., “good works”) under discussion are the LAW CONDITIONS, and not those works done in connection with CONDITIONS OF GRACE.

Paul’s effort is to deny that justification is equally related to the “law of faith” and the “works of law” (two completely different systems), while James’ effort is to demonstrate that justification is related to the “good works” of the law, but only in that such works are the natural, inevitable expression of genuine saving faith. So, Paul does (in his context) deny a system of justification by faith plus works, and this because “works of law,” (viz., imperfect works done under a system of justification by perfect law-keeping) are permanently prevented (the legal term is “estopped”) from having any salvific/soteriological value, while James, in fact, affirms justification by a faith that works (and once again, these are the “good works” Paul mentioned in Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, we are not just talking semantics here, as some think. Paul denies that one is justified equally by the “law of faith” and “works of law,” while James affirms that one can be justified only by a faith that works-viz., genuine saving faith begets or produces the “obedience of faith.” This “obedience of faith” is not just obedience to the GRACE CONDITIONS, which are works we must do in order to be saved and stay that way, but obedience to those “good works” which we were created in Christ Jesus to do—works “of God” that He determined “beforehand” we would do in connection with His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This interpretation, I believe, passes the scriptural litmus test. If not, I look forward to its refutation.

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (Rom 3).

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Vs. The Cross Of Christ

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

In their 2005 book entitled Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton presented the results of a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill research project entitled the “National Study of Youth and Religion.” What they “discovered” about the religious views of many teenagers may be summarized as follows:

  • “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth,”
  • “He wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions,”
  • “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself,”
  • “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem,”
  • “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

Their description for this syndrome was “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Deism because the god of the typical teenager is a far-away, distant and uninvolved god. Therapeutic because this god, although distant, still wants everyone to be happy, and is therefore willing, at times, to get involved when a person is embroiled in an unhappy situation. Moralistic because this far-away god who sometimes gets involved personally wants people to be nice and fair to each other, which teenagers think is the sine qua non of all world religions. In a follow-up article that can be found here, Smith said,

Such a de facto creed is particularly evident among mainline Protestant and Catholic youth but is also more than a little visible among black and conservative Protestants, Jewish teens, other religious types of teenagers, and even many ‘nonreligious’ teenagers in the United States.

This is interesting considering a critique H. Richard Niebuhr made of liberal Protestantism back in 1959, describing its core theology as “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross” (The Kingdom of God in America, p. 193). Thus, the “seeker-friendly” mentality that has now been institutionalized isn’t something new at all. It’s been coursing through the veins of “American Christendom” for some time now, wreaking its havoc on that which rightly calls itself after God—namely, the cross of Christ and everything it represents.

God’s Knowledge Is Multifaceted

All things are possible with God

God has foreknowledge and man has free will. This is true because the Bible says so. On the other hand, Calvinists et al. think there is some sort of friction between God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will. Disappointedly, more than a few Christians think the Calvinists are right about this. These have embraced man’s free will by sacrificing God’s foreknowledge on the altar of man-made think-sos. Thus, something which should impress us with God’s infinitude has caused dissension among His people. These intramural debates are well documented and are not the object of this article.

Instead, I want to discuss a different and more mind-blowing type of knowledge that God possesses. The philosophers and theologians call it “middle knowledge.” The terminology is unimportant. What’s important is that this kind of knowledge is so “totally other” that it is mind-boggling times ten.

Among the various places middle knowledge makes its appearance in the Scriptures is Matthew 11:20-24. Here the Lord said that if the “mighty works” performed during His ministry had been manifested in Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, they would have repented in “sackcloth and ashes,” with Sodom remaining to His day.

So, I would hope those who can’t get their minds wrapped around the idea of God foreknowing the future, contingent, free will choices of His free moral agents, will spend some time trying to get their finite minds wrapped around the idea of an all-knowing God knowing what free moral agents would have done under circumstances which never occurred and never will. If such knowledge doesn’t blow one’s mind and make him want to fall on his face and worship the Mighty El Shaddai, “the only wise God” (Rm. 16:27; 1 Tm. 1:17; Jud. 25), then I’m not sure what could be said that might cause one who believes that God can’t foreknow the future, contingent, free-will choices of His creatures to rethink his position.

To God be the glory, now and forever!

Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit of Happiness Are Not State-Granted Permissions, But God-Given Rights

The American Revolution

As noted in the previous post, the secular critics insist that THE INALIENABLE RIGHT TO “LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” are Enlightenment/secular humanist, not biblical, ideas. It is tragic that so many Americans, even some Christians, have believed this falsehood. In this post, we’ll examine the biblical origin of these concepts.

The Origin Of “Life”

As our Creator, God is the source of all life, “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a). Thus, man, who is wonderfully made in the image of his Creator, has an inherent and inalienable “right to life”—a right which can be justifiably defended against all interlopers. But without God, the Creator and Lawgiver—the God who the secularists diligently and methodically work to diminish—the State becomes the highest moral authority. When this happens, and it’s happening right now, rights, whether they be to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, are no longer thought to be inalienable. Instead, they are subject to the give and take of man-made think-sos. As a result, the inherent, God-given “right to life” has been seriously eroded in our culture, as the triune maladies of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia tragically attest.

Our Founding Fathers knew better than to establish government on the whims of sentiment. Instead, they grounded the government they were founding on the bedrock of eternal truths, truths they believed to be “self-evident.” This, more than anything else, demonstrates that these men were appealing to a biblically based way of knowing or epistemology, as the philosophers are fond of calling it. Such truths, the apostle Paul warns, some men will be disposed to suppress “in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). This was not just something that was going to be limited to Paul’s time. It would be a pattern that would manifest itself over and over again. That such is at work in our culture is something of which we are constantly being reminded.

Paul informs us that these truth suppressors are without excuse, for such truths are “manifest in them” (Rom 1:19), which is just another way of saying “self-evident.” A reading of Romans 1 and 2 with this in view in mind makes it clear that Paul and the Founding Fathers agree that such individuals are without any excuse for trying to obscure these self-evident truths. But when such truths are effectively suppressed in the minds of a people, God gives them over to a “debased mind” (Rom 1:28). In such a condition, they

do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (Rom 1:28b-32).

Such an array of sins does not bode well for any nation. Unfortunately, these are indicative of the sin-laden avenue this country is traveling. Any nation that forgets God is headed to the pit, according to Psalm 9:17. That this is a 180-degree turn from the self-evident truths upon which the Founding Fathers grounded this nation is clear from an honest examination of history. Commenting on this, Benjamin Hart, said:

Even if one does not accept the truth of the Christian faith, prudence argues for the promulgation of its moral code in every area of public life, because history has demonstrated that Christian morality is indispensable to the preservation of a free society (Faith and Freedom, p. 15).

Thus, as America continues cutting itself off from its founding principles, it is safe to say that the “right to life,” when considered at all, will continue to undergo the radical modification the secular humanists have envisioned and are even now implementing. But it is clear that no such thinking was evident among our Founding Fathers, for the right to life they spoke of in the Declaration was a gift not of man, but of God.

Having taken a look at the “origin of ‘life’,” we’ll now examine the “origin of ‘liberty’.”

The Origin Of “Liberty”

Although the Bible speaks directly of “liberty” in the Old and New Testaments, it is referring primarily to the spiritual liberty that comes in connection with Jesus Christ, not the physical freedom we are usually referring to when we use this word. However, this is not to concede that there is an absence of this latter idea in the Scriptures, for if man is not free to exercise himself as a servant of God, which is, after all, “the whole duty of man” (Eccles 12:13-14), then he cannot be held responsible for his lack of service. In other words, if man isn’t a free moral agent, then he can’t be amenable to God’s law. Consequently, Genesis 1 is the place to go in order to see the origin and importance of liberty/freedom.

God created man in His own image. In doing so, He endowed him with certain faculties and invested him with the authority to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures (Gen 1:26-28.). Therefore, from the creation mandate itself it can be necessarily inferred that man must have the liberty (i.e., the freedom) to obediently exercise himself in the performance of his God-given duties. Man, then, because he is man, ought to be free, and such liberty is not derived from other men, but from God Himself. Thus, liberty is intrinsic and, as such, is a “self-evident” “unalienable” “right,” just as our Founding Fathers believed and said. So then, liberty, freedom, and being free were not just Enlightenment concepts, as the secularists claim, but ideas built right into the very fabric of things from the very beginning.

Sadly, the secular propagandists are firmly entrenched today. As such, they have convinced many, perhaps even most, to think that liberty is something derived from the State and thus a privilege granted by the State. But to the contrary, liberty derives from God and is, therefore, a right that will be protected by God-ordained government. Any government that does not think this is the case is in league with the Devil (i.e., it is a Revelation 13 government) and as such will be a bane, not a blessing, upon its citizens. Thus, just as God’s word teaches and our Founding Fathers believed, liberty is an essential right of man.

Having now observed the biblical origin of “life” and “liberty,” we turn our attention to “the pursuit of happiness’”

The Origin Of “The Pursuit Of Happiness”

Of the three rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, this one, many think, is proof that it was a creation of Enlightenment thought and void of God and teeming with humanistic ideas. To these, “the pursuit of happiness” seems to be more hedonistic than biblical. But, this is simply not true. Jefferson appears to have taken the phrase from the Virginia Constitution of 1776, which mentioned “pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” The term “happiness” had a technical meaning in the English common law and would have conveyed a particular idea to the Founding Fathers. This is mirrored in Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765), where he said that God, the Creator, had

so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former, and if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter.

Thus, the “pursuit of happiness,” as used by the Framers, was not something inherently hedonistic at all. It was, instead, an idea well established among the people of that time, an idea that dealt with the self-evident truth that man’s inalienable right to pursue happiness in the course of, and by attending to, his God-given obligations and responsibilities was something that could not be interfered with by the State. On the contrary, the State was to protect such a right with force, if necessary (Rom 13:1-7). I like what Gary T. Amos said about this:

Like other Christian concepts that became part of formal philosophy and the common law, the Biblical notion of happiness runs deep within the channels of the common law. Its use is so obvious and extensive in the growth of English legal thought, one wonders whether those today who call it an Enlightenment term have read anything at all from the source materials of the common law, materials that were well-known and widely read by the American founders” (Gary T. Amos, Defending The Declaration: How the Bible and Christianity Influenced the Writing of the Declaration of Independence, 1989 p. 121).

Thus, we can see that the Founding Fathers, appealing, as they did, in the first paragraph of the Declaration to “The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” (i.e., the natural revelation that comes from the created order and the special revelation found in the Bible), created a government that was grounded in religious concepts best described as totally biblical/“Christian.” I say this because none of the delegates assembled from the thirteen states on that July 4, 1776 signing of the Declaration were Muslims, Buddhists, Confucianists, nor Hindus, and almost half had some form of seminary training or degree. It is true that Jefferson had Deist leanings, but all the others would have certainly considered themselves to be “Christians.” But even the Deists of that day, particularly Jefferson, were fervent believers in the Judeo-Christian God who had revealed Himself both in nature and the Bible—hence the reference to “The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” in the Declaration. Suffice it to say that Jefferson, who was the principal architect of the document, wasn’t a thirty-second cousin to modern secular, anti-God, humanists. I like what the late Richard John Neuhaus had to say about this:

The founding creed—“We hold these truths to be self-evident”—affirms truths that have been and are today far from self-evident to the great majority of humankind. The truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a truth that can only be explained as the product of a very particular history. In the eighteenth century, its explication and popular acceptance can only be explained in the context of the taken-for-granted reality of Christian America. This is not to say that the truths affirmed by the Declaration cannot be supported by rigorously secular arguments that are not dependent upon the biblical tradition…. But, in view of the many attempts that have failed, skepticism about that possibility is in order. And there is the inherent difficulty of what to do with the Creator—a reference that in the logic of the Declaration is essential to the claim that human rights are prior to government in the order of both time and authority”(First Things, “The End Of Abortion And The Meanings Of ‘Christian America,’” June/July 2001).

Clearly, then, the words and ideas articulated in the Declaration were biblical, not secular, and came not as a result of the humanism of the Enlightenment, as the secularists falsely claim, but from a long line of thinking that could only be described as “Judeo-Christian.” This is why that in the final paragraph of the Declaration, after a long list of grievances, an appeal was made to “the Supreme Judge of the world” coupled with “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” And even though it can be rightly argued that Jefferson exhibited a decidedly anti-organized religion, anti-clergy bent, he was definitely not anti-God. This is illustrated by a rhetorical question Jefferson asked on another occasion:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that their liberties are the gift of God? (Notes On The State Of Virginia, Query XVIII, in Paul L. Ford, ed., The Writing of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. III, 1894, p. 267).

So, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a secular humanist concept. It’s not. It’s biblical, through and through.

A Prior Allegiance

A Prior Allegiance
There are those who argue that this country was founded on secularism (i.e., Enlightenment theories). Thus, they claim, it was the expressed view of the Founding Fathers and Framers of the Constitution that God be factored out of the civil equation. But in light of the evidence, such a view is untenable. It was James Madison, the author of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, who said:
It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society…. And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign (James Madison et al., “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” June 20, 1785).
In other words, prior to any citizen’s pledge of allegiance to the state lies his or her allegiance to God.

Unalienable Rights

Unalienable Rights
In the founding document of this nation, the Founding Fathers set forth their theory of rights with these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776).
Aware they could no longer depend upon their “rights as Englishmen” before King George III (1760-1820) and Parliament, they appealed to that Law above all laws, which they believed granted to them certain “unalienable rights,” namely, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These, they believed, had been granted by their “Creator,” who they understood to be higher than the think-sos of the king or the political machinations of Parliament. Whether the English authorities acknowledged such rights was totally irrelevant because such were, in fact, “self-evident” (i.e., intuitively clear and certain). Such a theory of rights was highly evolved and manifested a comprehensive theological/ideological system of beliefs about God, Man, Nature, and Justice.
It is unfortunate that twenty-first-century society has lost its footing concerning such “rights,” for too few remain who really believe such rights to be God-given. Most only see such rights as something derived from the State (viz., the government giveth and the government taketh away). Although there may be much talk these days about “human rights,” “civil rights,” “animal rights,” and even “homosexual rights,” hardly anyone speaks of “unalienable rights.”
God-Given Rights
As a creature made in the image of God, man has certain God-given rights that cannot be infringed upon or abridged by any other man, group, organization, or institution, and this certainly includes the State. Nevertheless, secularists, who actively promote the idolization of the State, along with the idolized State itself, do not take kindly to those who resist their idolatrous ways. Consequently, secularism becomes more and more institutionalized. Such is in full sway today. As a result, Christians will more and more find themselves in conflict with the State due to its ever-widening influence.
As the modern State becomes more and more pervasive, there is hardly anywhere it does not seek to exert itself. Conversely, a government that knows its God-given place is a government that’s quite limited. Such sees itself as prohibited from interfering with God-given (“unalienable”) rights. That this was unquestionably true of the American government is evidenced by The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America. Both of these documents made it clear that the then-new republic was a limited government, a government that would be most careful not to trample on the God-given rights of its citizens; a government that would, instead, conscientiously and vigorously defend these rights. Alas, this is a history largely forgotten today.