Faith that Works: Peter and James

Jeopardy and Assurance

Now, of course, human nature and our relationship with God is bit more complex than contra-positives and logic. After all, even if I have the Spirit within me, I have a choice. I can follow his lead or I can refuse it.

Refusing may eventually cause the Spirit to leave me, placing me outside the camp, alone in the desert, but until then, I remain saved and must make a choice every day whether to follow.

Hence, I may have days when I do no works and bear no fruit, but the Spirit still strives with me. That’s okay. God, like any loving parent, will judge my life, not my day. Of course, one bad day can easily turn into a bad week, a bad month, and even a ruined life. But until that happens, I’m judged on the whole, indeed, by whether the Spirit has yet given up on me.

Therefore, due to my immaturity or due to a time of struggle, I may not be worth much to God and yet still be saved. God is patient like that. But ultimately, in the long run, at some point, I have to turn it around.

I find it helpful to think in the same terms as Peter — not that he contradicts Paul at all. I just like how he says it.

(2Pe 1:3-4 ESV) 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

“Partakers in the divine nature” sure sounds like a reference to the indwelling Spirit to me. But the language also speaks to the idea of being transformed into the image of God.

Peter says, therefore, that God has given us all we need so that we may possess the Spirit — that is, to be transformed into God’s image — and thereby escape the corruption that is in the world.

We see Paul using “corruption” in Romans 8:21 to refer to the Fall of Man. (Compare 1 Cor 15:42, 50). Peter’s language differs from Paul, but it’s the same theology.

(2Pe 1:5-7 ESV) 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,  6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

“For this very reason” — to assure that you truly escape the corruption — make every effort to acquire Christian virtues or (Paul would say) fruit of the Spirit.

(2Pe 1:8 ESV) 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter wisely counsels that the goal isn’t perfect love or perfect self-control but to continually grow in love and self-control. So long as we are growing, our knowledge of Jesus (that is, the gospel which saves) will be effective (to keep us saved) and fruitful.

(2Pe 1:9 ESV) 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

We don’t have to have these qualities in their fullness, but if we aren’t on our way toward gaining them, we’ve lost our first love and our gratitude.

(2Pe 1:10 ESV)  10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

“Confirm” in the KJV is “make sure.” How do we make sure we “never fall”? We grow in the fruits of the Spirit. The more we follow Jesus, the more we grow in his attributes, the farther away from sin we will be. Indeed, the more powerfully the Spirit glows within us and transforms us, the more sure we are of our election!

But if we get lazy, our election becomes unsure. We are at risk of sin’s deception and hardening — and we can fall away all the while being so deadened to guilt that we just don’t care.

Therefore, there is no safe place between growing in the Spirit and damnation. There are places in between, but they are deadly dangerous, scary, fearsome places — which dull the senses and hide the consequences. Safety is found only in letting God transform our minds. Romans 12:1-2 is thus the key to an assured salvation.

Do works save? No. But they discipline the heart and mind. They shape us so that the Spirit can work more powerfully within us. They evidence the heart of Jesus.

It’s a peculiarity of human nature that our hearts sometimes follow our behavior. Sometimes we have to do right before we feel the urge to do right. But it’s ultimately the heart that God judges, and our works both shape our hearts and are shaped by our hearts.

James

By now, James is surely obvious. Does James contradict Paul? Explain away Paul? No. True faith is — in the normal case — evidenced by works. Paul says the same thing. No works means — in the normal case — a weak faith or no faith at all.

Therefore, it’s entirely proper to urge Christians to do good works. Paul does. Why shouldn’t James?

Those who wish to argue with Paul using James are wasting their time.

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25 Responses to Faith that Works: Peter and James

  1. Alan says:

    Jay wrote:

    Peter wisely counsels that the goal isn’t perfect love or perfect self-control but to continually grow in love and self-control.

    Not to quibble about words (although you are a lawyer!)… but I disagree. The goal is perfect love and perfect self control, and perfection in every other area as well (Matt 5:48). But grace covers the imperfections. We can’t just accept our shortcomings as inevitable. That’s dangerously close to deliberately keeping on sinning (Heb 10:26).

    Scriptures are full of warnings to the faithful. Paul himself said:

    Act 20:31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

    He was charging the Ephesian elders to do likewise. Church leaders today have the same responsibility – to warn every Christian not to be lazy, not to fall into sin… all of the warnings of scripture. Paul found it necessary to warn the Christians night and day. He never stopped. If we don’t do the same, we are in great danger ourselves, because leaders will be called to account.

  2. Mellie says:

    how would we know that the Spirit had left us? is it something consciously experienced? or one just stops caring and doesn’t even notice?

  3. Skip says:

    Absolute perfection for Christians is never possible in this life. We are perfect because of the blood of Christ but we can’t ever be perfect experientially. Yes, I know we are commanded to be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. This quote does not say act perfect but to BE perfect. I believe this scripture is fulfilled by us when we are trying and striving but we remain in Christ and his blood continues to present us as perfect before God. I don’t think anyone in this blog can claim to have arrived at perfection. If they have arrived, I want their autograph.

  4. Price says:

    Jay…would you elaborate on your comment “Therefore, there is no safe place between growing in the Spirit and damnation.” That seems to be a place of fear rather than assurance but I may have misunderstood…

  5. Laymond says:

    “Do works save? No. But they discipline the heart and mind. They shape us so that the Spirit can work more powerfully within us. They evidence the heart of Jesus.”
    In other words if you don’t do the works, your heart and mind won’t be in the right place, if your heart and mind are in the wrong place you are lost. Sparse the words however you wish , it all boils down to the same thing. If you don’t do the work, you don’t get paid. Oh you will get a reward alright, maybe not the one you expect. The bible says some already have their reward. Some might say I will sleep now and work later. You may show up to work late and still get paid, but you have to show up for work. I just hope nothing happens on the road to work. I doubt the intent of the heart will cover the sins. You know the old saying “the road to hell are paved with good intentions”

  6. Laymond says:

    Skip said, “Absolute perfection for Christians is never possible in this life.”

    Skip when we see a work, as a work in futility we tend to slack up, or quit altogether. What does it mean to be like God. I don’t believe it means never say or do something you have to repent of, God both said and did things that he repented of. And I believe he said and did them out of anger or disappointment. but to be like him means if you do something you need to repent of, REPENT. Let your strength guide your weakness. The things God repented of, were done in anger, and repented of in love. Follow God’s example, it ain’t really that hard. I am not telling you I never say or do things out of anger, I do. but I try my best to repent, and say forgive me to both, the one I yelled at, and to God, and he does, he has been there.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Jay wrote:
    “True faith is – in the normal case – evidenced by works.”
    When is True faith not evidenced by works?

  8. Skip says:

    Laymond, I think I understand your point. Realizing that I can never be perfect does not discourage me from trying to be like Jesus Christ. He loved – I need to love. He served – I need to serve. He prayed – I need to pray. I just can’t ever do it as perfectly as He did. Perfection to me is not a flawless abstenance from sin but rather fulfilling the command to love God and love others.

  9. aBasnar says:

    We don’t have to have these qualities in their fullness, but if we aren’t on our way toward gaining them, we’ve lost our first love and our gratitude.

    Well, I think we ought to be a little more direct:

    We don’t have to have these qualities in their fullness, but if we aren’t on our way toward gaining them, we are not on the way at all.

    If I want to come to Minnesota, I cannot take the plane to Siberia (even though the winter is likewise very cold there). If I don’t strive for what Peter lists here, I’m not living by faith. Then my initial confession of faith in baptism (or the sinner’s prayer, depending on the background) profits me nothing, because I don’t walk the way this gate brought me to. Interesting verse, that:

    Mat 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
    Mat 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

    First there is a gate, then follows a way. Entering the gate is a “one-time-event”. First we choose which way we want to go. This decision is marked by entering the gate. But then we have not reached our destiny yet. Now we have a life long jurney ahead of us. We have to remain in the faith that led us through the door, we have to hold fast (and even deepen) that vision that made us go through the narow gate.

    Like the Israelites who went out of Egypt through the Red Sea and found themselves on a (prolongued) journe through the wilderness where their faith was tested, where they had to learn to persvere and to rely on God’s care and guidance.

    Alexander

  10. aBasnar says:

    Do works save?

    This is the same question as if the Israelites had asked:
    “Do we really have to walk to get there?”

    One might even argue: “God said, He brought us here on eagle’s wings! It’s all His work not ours! If we say we have to walk to reach Canaan, we downplay God’s power to save us, his Grace. Of course we will walk out of gratitude, but surely not to get to Canaan! Walking does not bring us there, it’s by Grace through Faith!”

    Do you see how silly this work/faith debate can be?

    Alexander

  11. Skip says:

    Alexander, This phrase “We don’t have to have these qualities in their fullness, but if we aren’t on our way toward gaining them, we’ve lost our first love and our gratitude.” is still fully true. Falling from our walk with the Lord begins with a lack of love and gratitude. Your children have had times where they weren’t grateful. Did you promptly kick them out of the family? Or did you patiently work with them to be more grateful and obedient?

  12. aBasnar says:

    As a child I never liked to clean up my room. In fact I never learned it – and this affects my surroundig areas to this day. Tell me, would “gratitude to my parents” have helped me in any way to become more tidy? I doubt it. I did not see the outcome of my attitude back then, and today I struggle with it (once in a while). But gratitude – although I was and am still grateful to my parents never made any difference in this area.

    What is it about? It is about the outcome: Do I really want to grow up to become a man able to handle his life (and desk)?

    The salvation is tied to a similar question: Do I really want to get there? See, everyone wants to escape from Pharao. “Want less work? Less slavery? Less burning bricks in the hot sun?” Of course, the answer is a resounding YES!!! And it’s that simple: Let God send the plagues and deliver us from his hands! All it needs is a lamb we will gladly roast and eat. Then: Off we go! Are we saved now? Are we grateful to have escaped Pharao? Rememeber the song and dance at the other side of the sea when the waves spilled the Egyptian corpses to the shore? Boy, that was something! YES, we were VERY grateful.

    But then: Days and days of travel. Food supplies run dry, kids are getting increasingly impatient, we are foot sore and tired … and without any orientation about where we are. Then the murmuring started. We grew increasingly dissatisfied with our salvation, and many of us wanted to go back to Egypt (after all Pharao was dead and food was plenty there).

    Then we reached the borders of Canaan and we sent in spies – what a dreadful meassage they brough back to us! We were in despair, angry, disillusioned. And then we had to walk and walk again – for 40 long years …

    Do you get my point? Gratefulness for having been saved FROM Pharao does not help in the wilderness. Unless we grasp the vision of the Promised Land and the concept of being the People of the Living God, called to glorify Him, called to be blessed by Him, called to be used by Him to bless all nations! Unless this vision fills our hearts and minds, we will (sooner or later) sit down in the sand and say: “God never said we had to WALK to get there.” OR: “I have heard that works play no role in our salvation.” Oh these poor Israelites: Where they not told the whole story? Or didn’t they listen?

    Skip, that’s the dilemma of Evangelicalism! The Gospel is reduced to salvation FROM sin and its consequences, but there is a lack of vision as to where the Narrow Path shall lead us. Why it is essential to salvation, that we walk it until we reach its destiny. That’s why we sit here and debate whether works/walking is necessary for salvation. As I said: This is silly!

    Alexander

  13. aBasnar says:

    Oh, I forgot:

    God did not promptly abandon His people … He was close to, however – several times! But Israel had a compassionae intercessor: Moses. But you know how many of the first generation made it to Canaan …

    Alexander

  14. Monty says:

    Abasner,

    So what you are saying is that grace won’t cover a complete lack of faith? Sin, yes. Rebellion,no!

  15. Skip says:

    I don’t think the issue is Evangelicalism or any other ism. I think we ping pong between two extremes: 1) It is all on us and we have to kick our butts to barely please God or 2) It is all on God and we do nothing. I believe it is a combination of fear, resolve, love, and grace. We should assume that everyone on this blog wants to serve and please God and is motivated by his love and grace. On that point, love is a far better motivator in my life than fear although I have both motives pushing me.

  16. Laymond says:

    Moses was sent to lead/show the children the way out of bondage, not carry them out. It would have taken more than forty years, if he had to carry them out one at a time.

  17. skip says:

    I don’t know of a single modern leader trying to carry church members to heaven. We all stand before God on our own.

  18. Laymond says:

    Skip, I believe you know I was comparing Moses to Jesus , not you, or anyway you should have.

  19. Skip says:

    I honestly did not see Jesus in your analogy. Thanks for the clarification.

  20. Laymond says:

    Sorry, for the murky analogy, sometimes I just take things for granted.

  21. Jim Haugland says:

    I Peter2:1-6 – we are to “grow up in our salvation”. Perfect scripturally does not convey our usual use and understanding of the word. It is better understood as complete. We are counted complete in Christ, and having been clothed with him his blood continually cleanes us. I Jn I:7. We cannot be “perfect” in our flesh because our core nature is sinful, but we are counted as complete. We will be made perfect (as we think of the term) when we pass from this life and be like him as truly spiritual beings. In this life we are held in his merciful hand of marvous grace!!

  22. aBasnar says:

    So what you are saying is that grace won’t cover a complete lack of faith? Sin, yes. Rebellion,no!

    What are the conclusions you draw from the Exodus, Monty?

    Alexander

  23. aBasnar says:

    I think we ping pong between two extremes: 1) It is all on us and we have to kick our butts to barely please God or 2) It is all on God and we do nothing.

    Did you notice, Skip, how hard I tried to get away from this point of discussion? I opened a completely different perspective by putting us on the road. By showing, that salvation has two stages: To be saven FROM and then to enter INTO. In between these two lies a narrow path or a desert. It is entirely by grace that we were freed FROM sin and its power over us (Baptism). And it is by Grace that we are sustained on this long journey with Bread from heaven (Lord’s Supper). Yet it is SO OBVIOUS that we have to walk the whole distance. See the works as steps in the desert sand by which we move on in this life. This – in my opinion – solves the whole puzzle once and for all.

    Alexander

  24. Jerry says:

    This has nothing to do with “available light” but I just came across a new service at caringbridge.org that looks to be very useful for planning and organizing support services for specific individuals in a community of caring people – such as a church.

    You can read about it here. It is called “Support Planner.” Caring Bridge has, for 15 years, provided a way for people who are going through cancer or other illnesses to keep connected with family and friends. This is a new service that sets up a calendar for a group to provide meals, child care, etc. for a specific person within the group that needs those services.

    I suspect that many people will find this very useful.

  25. Price says:

    @ Jerry…Have had several friends that have unfortunately had reason to use the services of Caring Bridge. Great service !!

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