Faith That Works: On the Meaning of “Works”

Just a couple of thoughts from a couple of comments from several days ago.

Skip wrote,

In scripture, our salvation lies in whom we believe not in what we do.   Deeds are not meritorious.  Faith is the focus.   Deeds are a consequence of faith not the source of our faith.   Jesus saves because we first believe.

Romans 4:5 “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Alexander replied,

To have faith in God is all but sitting around, because saving faith works. Paul speaks about obedience of faith from beginning to end (Rom 1:5 and Rom 16:26). So this “who does not work” cannot possibly mean “Who just sits around” or “who does absolutely nothing”, but the works refer to the Mosaic Law. THIS was the big issue as soon as gentiles were added to the church. The background to this discussion is Acts 15 and Gal 2).

I want to first address the theory that “works” in Romans and Galatians refers exclusively — and in principle — to works of the Law of Moses. Then I’ll come back to the interpretation of Romans 4:5 in a future post.

Many Church of Christ expositors have argued that “works” refers exclusively to the Law of Moses — so much so that if you grew up and were trained in a Church of Christ school of preaching, you might be unaware that this is even a controversial question, whereas the overwhelming majority of Protestant commentators take “works” to be much broader.

Ironically enough, it’s the New Perspective commentators — who’ve been almost entirely ignored by the conservative Churches of Christ — who argue for a narrower meaning of “works” than is found in most interpretations going back to the Reformation. But even they wouldn’t limit the concept — in principle — to only obedience to Mosaic commands.

Obviously, of course, Paul’s primary reference in using “works” in Galatians is to circumcision as well as celebration of Jewish days and festivals (Gal 4:10). But is Paul’s argument only applicable to just those things — making Galatians largely irrelevant today — or does the principle he argues apply more broadly?

In Romans, Paul is not targeting a specific false teaching, but is speaking more abstractly. However, as Romans 9 – 11 demonstrates, he was dealing with Christianity through the lens of the unity of Gentiles and Jews, which inevitably raises the question of obedience to the Law of Moses.

But, again, do the principles he argues apply solely to those 613 command (as the Jews have traditionally counted)? Again, is Romans almost entirely about an issue that no longer matters?

We start in Galatians. Paul begins his major discussion in chapter 2. I use the NET Bible translation, because it reflects the latest scholarship on how 2:16 should be translated (See The Cruciform God: Chapter 2, The Faith of Jesus and following posts)* —

(Gal 2:15-16 NET) 15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners,  16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Notice Paul’s logic. We are justified by the work of Jesus (which we receive by faith — as he says in the middle of the verse and will explain in detail in chapter 3), not by works of the law. Notice that he doesn’t just say “not by works of the law” — which certainly would justify the traditional Church of Christ interpretation — but he also says “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.”

If I tell my son not to lie to his mother, he could rationalize and argue a day later than it’s okay to lie to his brother or even to me, because I only told him it’s wrong to lie to his mother. Neither I nor any reader would find his rationalization persuasive. But he could make the argument.

But if I told him that it’s wrong to lie to his mother because he must always be honest, then all rationalizations disappear. Plainly, that argument does not apply solely to mothers.

Paul gives the narrow but negative answer — not by law — which addresses the issue at hand, and then gives the broader and positive answer — by the faithfulness of Jesus. He does not say “by the faithfulness of Jesus plus our works of the law of Christ” or some such.

Both forms of the answer are inspired and true. Yes, it’s not by works of the Law of Moses! But, yes, it is by the faithfulness of Jesus. The reason it’s not by works is because it’s by the faithfulness of Jesus (which we attain by faith in Jesus).

Now, why does Paul say “by the faithfulness of Jesus” when so many in the Churches of Christ want him to say “by our own faithfulness”? And why say that when, in fact, we’re supposed to be faithful? Because our faithfulness does not justify. Yes, we are to be faithful, but our justification is because of the faithfulness of Jesus — not ours — which is the plain and obvious implication.

You see, Jesus’ faithfulness is perfect, complete, finished, and entirely sufficient. And only perfect, complete, finished, and entirely sufficient faithfulness is good enough to be justified. Therefore, it cannot be based on our faithfulness.

This quite naturally leads to the accusation that Paul is approving license, that is, Christians who continue to live as non-Christians, in sin. He summarized his response to this charge by saying —

(Gal 2:17-20 NET) 17 But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not!  18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law.  19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God.  20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

He’ll say more on the subject, especially in chapter 5, but let’s consider his argument.

In v. 18 he says he “once destroyed” his lawlessness. In v. 19 he says he “died to the law so that I may live to God.” Clearly, he’s referring at least to his repentance, indeed, his submission to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9).

In v. 20, he declares himself “co-crucified” (literal Greek) with Christ — he died on the cross with Jesus (remember the meaning of baptism in Romans 6!) so that his old self is dead and Christ lives in him.

This has to be a reference to the Holy Spirit — who is received when we are first justified at baptism and who transforms the Christian into the image of Christ. Otherwise, without some divine involvement, Paul is only saying that he’s trying harder now — which in Romans 7 he declares to be futility, a futility resolved in Romans 8 by the power of the Spirit.

There is also an element of gratitude to Jesus for his sacrifice: “who loved me and gave himself for me.” And gratitude is a powerful motivator, especially when empowered by the Spirit.

Finally, Paul recapitulates his argument —

(Gal 2:21 NET)  21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!

Why can’t righteousness come through the law? Because we are incapable of obeying it well enough to merit justification. Well, what about someone’s version of the New Testament Law? Can we seriously argue that there is any law that truly comes from the hand of God that we are capable of obeying well enough to merit salvation?

Obviously not. Well, then, the same argument applies to whatever legal system you want to talk about. And, yet, of course, there are laws that still apply to Christians today — and, no, of course, we cannot obey them well enough to be justified. Therefore, the principle is plenty broad enough to apply to whatever law you want to discuss.

Indeed, as Adam and Eve illustrate, if we had but one law to obey, we’d surely disobey it!

The usual conservative Church of Christ response to this is to assert that “justification” is only our initial salvation and so Paul is only talking about how saved we are the moment we arise from the baptistry. After that, then we’re dealing with “sanctification,” and the rules get tougher!

We’ll deal with “justification” in the next post. You see, justification begins at baptism but it continues so long as we are in Christ. More to come …


* The NET Bible translators explain —

Though traditionally translated “faith in Jesus Christ,” an increasing number of NT scholars are arguing that πίστις Χριστοῦ (pistis Christou) and similar phrases in Paul (here and in v. Gal 2:20; Rom 3:22, Rom 3:26; Gal 3:22; Eph 3:12; Phi 3:9) involve a subjective genitive and mean “Christ’s faith” or “Christ’s faithfulness” (cf., e.g., G. Howard, “The ‘Faith of Christ’,” ExpTim 85 [1974]: 212-15; R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ [SBLDS]; Morna D. Hooker, “Πίστις Χριστοῦ,” NTS 35 [1989]: 321-42). Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πίστις takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Mat 9:2, Mat 9:22, Mat 9:29; Mar 2:5; Mar 5:34; Mar 10:52; Luk 5:20; Luk 7:50; Luk 8:25, Luk 8:48; Luk 17:19; Luk 18:42; Luk 22:32; Rom 1:8; Rom 1:12; Rom 3:3; Rom 4:5, Rom 4:12, Rom 4:16; 1Co 2:5; 1Co 15:14, 1Co 15:17; 2Co 10:15; Phi 2:17; Col 1:4; Col 2:5; 1Th 1:8; 1Th 3:2, 1Th 3:5, 1Th 3:10; 2Th 1:3; Tit 1:1; Phm 6; 1Pe 1:9, 1Pe 1:21; 2Pe 1:5).

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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24 Responses to Faith That Works: On the Meaning of “Works”

  1. Price says:

    Good thoughts. I always was puzzled by those that would try to divide the rules (law) given by God to the Jews and some sort of undefined rules (law) for the new covenant. I think you hammered it down with the Adam/Eve one rule point….

    I would argue that Sanctification begins at baptism…Justification is by Grace… Rom 3:24, Gal 5:4, Titus 3:7. That is if Baptism is a command that one must follow.

  2. Royce Ogle says:

    I would argue that even “sanctification” is a work of grace. (2 Corinthians 9:8, Philippians 1:6, 2:13, Hebrews 13:21, Ephesians 2:10, and Galatians 5:22) Each of these references shows that every good thing arises from God and is at His initiative. Not one of us who finally is glorified will be able to claim any minute part of our own salvation. The Scriptures teach that even our faithfulness is a grace gift from our God. Some of our friends claim that God and me saved me is simply not true.

  3. Alan says:

    People generally confuse three separate things, making it very difficult to discuss this important topic.

    1. Salvation doesn’t come by works. We can’t do anything to earn our salvation. We don’t deserve it, period. We *can’t* deserve it.

    2. Once we receive salvation, we can lose it based on what we do, or what we do not do. Matt 7:21-23; Gal 6:7-8; etc.

    3. The reward for the saved will be in proportion to what we have done. Hundreds of scriptures back up that statement. For example Matt 25:31-46; Gal 6:7-8; Rev 20:12.

    We all want to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” To hear that, we need to *do* something, and to do it well. That’s the message of the parable of the talents, and the parable of the sheep and goats — the words of Jesus.

    Someone will protest that this can’t be true because we can’t earn our salvation. They are confusing the three things I listed above. After doing everything we were commanded, we still don’t deserve it (Luke 17:7-10) Everything we receive from God is unmerited grace. But we are still expected to obey.

  4. John says:

    Hi Jay,

    This is how I teach faith and works in this context (Romans and Galatians). When you read “faith” it means forgiveness, when you read “works” it means human merit. When they are contrasted the text is not discussing obedience per se, but making the point that you are powerless to effect your own salvation. Of course we strive to obey, and if we don’t, we don’t have faith.

    I think you may be overstating the so-called “conservative” position, which would make it easier to attack (not to say that that is your intent). I don’t think any “conservatives” would disagree with what I wrote in the first paragraph. I don’t think you would disagree with what I wrote.

  5. Alabama John says:

    Makes me think of the egg and chicken argument.
    Too bad as the real thought is so often lost.

    I liken it to the Gold City Quartet singing “When He reached down His hand for me”

    That hand is always reaching down and all we have to do is reach up to grab hold of it.

    Call that reaching for it WORK or whatever you want, but Thank God its there for us if we want it.

  6. laymond says:

    Royce, I have never heard anyone say I saved myself, God is the creator of “ALL THINGS” nothing exists except he created it, and nothing will be saved or destroyed, except he does it. But it seems to me that God can be influenced by human action. even to the point of changing his mind after he said he was going to do something.
    Gen 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
    Gen 6:7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
    Gen 6:8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
    Gen 6:9 These [are] the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man [and] perfect in his generations, [and] Noah walked with God.

    And there are those whose righteousness influenced God to work through them.
    Gen 5:24 And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took him.
    Luk 1:5 ¶ There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife [was] of the daughters of Aaron, and her name [was] Elisabeth.
    Luk 1:6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
    Luk 1:27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name [was] Mary.
    Luk 1:28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, [thou that art] highly favoured, the Lord [is] with thee: blessed [art] thou among women.

    The bible tells many stories where “good works” do influence God’s decisions, I don’t know how you can say it doesn’t. Are all these stories just untrue?

  7. Skip says:

    Laymond, you seem to have completely misunderstood Royce’s point.

  8. Micah says:


    What theological doctrines hang upon translating pistis Christou as “faithfulness of Christ”? I know the general outlines of the arguments for translating it that way, but Thomas Schreiner’s discussion of this in his Romans commentary has persuaded me that “faith in Christ” is the best translation.

    (You can find a summary of Schreiner’s arguments this post on my blog.)

    But do you think it makes a big difference in one’s theology?

  9. Royce Ogle says:


    I’m not speaking for Jay but…way back in the time of the prophets Isaiah understood the concept. The book that bears his name says in chapter 53 verse 11
    ” Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.”

    You see, it is Jesus who makes on to be counted as righteous because he bore our sins in his body. Then in Romans 5:19 “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

    That “one man” was Jesus and because of his obedience sinners are “made righteous”, they don’t become righteous because of what they do. It is by the sacrificial and substitutionary death of Jesus that God can still be just, and the justifyer of the ungodly (Romans 3:26).

    The “faithfulness of Christ” is not only his passion but his total life of obedience offered to God to satisfy fully what we could never do perfectly, obey God in everything.

  10. Jay Guin says:


    Way back in the Cruciform God series, I covered this in some detail — over a series of posts beginning with the one linked in the post here. That translation set up several very elegant conclusions — and to my mind, elegance (in the mathematical sense ( is a hallmark of God’s way of thinking.

    One conclusion is that as we have faith/are faithful, we become like Jesus, who is characterized by his faithfulness — just as our righteousness makes us like God, characterized by his righteousness.

    It also sets up the defintion of pistis as applied to Christians, forcing us to accept that pistis as applied to Christians includes faithfulness — which fits Paul’s writings much better than the Reformation idea of mere intellectual assent. (More to come in the Faith That Works series.)

    And as NT Wright explains, it also avoids the redundancies and awkwardness of the alternative translation.

    I might add that I just stumbled across this from the Song of Moses —

    (Deu 32:20 ESV) 20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness [pistis].

    — which I think think Luke and Paul allude to several times. Since Paul declares the Jews of his time lost for their lack of faith (apistia Rom 11:20), it all just fits together very nicely. It’s elegant. (I will be covered in more detail in the series on Galatians.)

    Another related mathmatical concept is “power,” meaning the ability of a concept to explain things and to produce new results. The more I study with this translation in mind, the more the Scriptures make sense. It opens avenues for investigation that prove fruitful.

    Could we get good theological results without it? Well, yes, and we could also write 0.9999999999… for 1, but who’d want to?

  11. Jay Guin says:


    I entirely agree with you as to substitutionary atonement, that is, that Jesus paid the price for us. However, I’ve been persuaded that the doctrine of imputed righteousness is not justified by the Scriptures (/2007/10/the-new-perspective-imputed-righteousness/). It could be true, but we can hold it as doctrine.

    The jargon is confusing. “Imputed righteousness” is the commonly taught doctrine that we are credited with Jesus’ perfect obedience generally, as opposed to his obedience on the cross specifically, and the classic texts don’t really say that. We are, however, credited with his perfect sacrifice — so that his death paid the price for our sins

    Now, if you take the translation here to refer to the “faithfulness of Jesus” you could argue that this means his perfect, general obedience. And it certainly could. But the texts are speaking of his obedience on the cross in particular. It’s entirely possible that Paul had his more general obedience in mind, but he never comes out and says so.

    These are VERY fine points of doctrine and not worth arguing much about (which is why I’ve not addressed the topic but twice in over 5 years of daily blogging). No one disputes that Jesus was sinless. The Hebrews writer makes a major point of this. And he had to have been “without blemish” to be a suitable sacrifice.

    Therefore, it does fit together. Jesus’ general sinlessness was necessary so that he could make the perfect sacrifice and atone for our sins.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    PS —


    I like the fact that this analysis forces us to think of Jesus’ faithfulness (and hence our faith/faithfulness) more in terms of sacrifice than perfect obedience. Jesus is repeatedly upheld as an example of service, submission, suffering, and sacrifice and not ever as an example of obedience of some other sort.

    Therefore, as we envision God’s purposes in saving us, we are forced to think, not in terms of obedience to whatever rules God imposes, regardless of our understanding, but rather in terms of becoming like Jesus in his self-emptying.

    Jesus did in fact honor the seemingly arbitrary rules of the Law — and sometimes we conclude that God is all about us obeying equally arbitrary rules. But this comes in part from an ever-so-slightly flawed understanding of the atonement inherited from the Reformation.

  13. aBasnar says:

    Why can’t righteousness come through the law? Because we are incapable of obeying it well enough to merit justification. Well, what about someone’s version of the New Testament Law? Can we seriously argue that there is any law that truly comes from the hand of God that we are capable of obeying well enough to merit salvation?

    I think these are wrong questions alltogether. Imagine the following: Assume I’d apply for the U.S.-citizenship. I’d be required to swear allegiance to the Unites States:

    “I hereby declare, on oath,

    that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;

    that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

    that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;

    that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law;

    that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

    In some cases, USCIS allows the oath to be taken without the clauses: “. . .that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by law. . .”

    Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

    As a nonresistant Christian of course I could not swear this. But let’s assume I did. Henceforth I am bound to keep and defend the Laws ofthe States. Jay, as a lawyer, I ask you: How perfectly do I have to obey the law to merit my citizenship?

    You might answer correctly: I don’t merit my citizenship by keeping the Law (first), but by “repenting” from my former allegiancies. It is – in fact – an act of grace and goodwill on behalf of the US that they allow immigration. Yes, I’d become a US citizen “by grace” and a confession of faith(fulness).

    OK: How perfectly do I have to keep the US laws in order to keep my citizenship? You probably know that there is not one US American who keeps all the laws there are. I’m sure there are far more than 618 commandments, and there is probably not even one lawyer who really knows all the laws there are (that’s the case in Austria anyway). Now we can play the same game as with the Gospel: Since it is neither meritorious for our US citizenship, nor even possible to keep all the laws, keeping the law does in no way affect our citizenship/salvation.

    The US – as you can see in the required oath – is jealous “God” who does not allow divided loyalties. I may not fight side by side with my Austrian relatives, if war broke out between the two countries. When there is something that is allowed by Austrian laws, but forbidden in the US, I am not free to go by my former Austrian legislation.

    Back to the Kingdom: As citizens of God’s Kingdom we swear loyality to Christ. I like the translation of “pistis” as “faithfulness”. If we do this consistently, we will never again see a discrepancy between faith and works. Because all faithful Americans fall short of perfect obedience, yet are nonetheless considered loyal. The same is true for all Christians. But to say: No, we don’t have to work, is nonsense! Obeying God’s Laws is not only an act of gratitude, it is the essence of what it means to be loyal to the King! therefore: You cannot say (e.g.) I divorce my wife and marry another one, because the US allow me to do so – this is not allowed in the Kingdom. Or I’ll take up arms against the enemies of the US, because the US want me to – the King says: Love your enemies (don’t shoot them, but feed them! Overcome evil with good, not with bullets). So as long as this oath is required MY KING FORBIDS me to become a US American citizen.

    Our King is every bit as jealous as the US and will not accept divided loyalties!

    What is the “Faithfulness of Christ”? It is the way Christ expressed His faithfulness to the Father in the midst of an adulterous and wicked generation. We are NOT saved, because Christ was faithful INSTEAD of us. But His faithfulness kept Him the spotless Lamb that was needed for hte sacrifice. AND: His faithfulness sets the example of the faith we are to follow. Whenever it is said: “We are saved by faith”, the model/pattern of this faith is Christ’s faithfulness! Believe, live, love and act as Christ did! His righteousness is not imputed to us (as you correctly stated, Jay), but we are empowered and regenerated by the Spirit to become like Him.

    So, please, how can anyone say that our obedience plays no role in our salvation? Did obedience play a role in Christ’s faithfulness? Is Christ a King who requires undivided loyalty?

    Of course He is. And as it is the case with a naturalized citizen: We can lose that privilege by becoming disloyal. Take the US as an example again:

    obtaining naturalization in a foreign state (Sec. 349 (a) (1) INA);
    taking an oath, affirmation or other formal declaration to a foreign state or its political subdivisions (Sec. 349 (a) (2) INA);
    entering or serving in the armed forces of a foreign state engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or serving as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer in the armed forces of a foreign state (Sec. 349 (a) (3) INA);
    accepting employment with a foreign government if (a) one has the nationality of that foreign state or (b) an oath or declaration of allegiance is required in accepting the position (Sec. 349 (a) (4) INA);
    formally renouncing U.S. citizenship before a U.S. diplomatic or consular officer outside the United States (sec. 349 (a) (5) INA);
    formally renouncing U.S. citizenship within the U.S. (but only under strict, narrow statutory conditions) (Sec. 349 (a) (6) INA);
    conviction for an act of treason (Sec. 349 (a) (7) INA).

    I think it is not hard to find the parallels to the Kingdom. We don’t lose our salvation because of imperfect obedience, but because of divided loyalties and treason. Little steps of willful disobendienc however will evntually lead into open rebellion and disloyalty/apostasy.


  14. Kevin says:

    Once we sin a single time, we need Christ and grace. There is nothing we can personally do to atone for even a single sin…all the prayers that we may pray, all the good deeds that we may do, all the money that we may give, all the hungry that we may feed, all the sick that we may visit, all the evangelism that we may perform will not remove a single stain from our immortal soul. It is absolutely impossible for any man, anywhere, at any time in history to add to the efficacy of Christ’s blood. We simply cannot contribute to the means of our salvation in any way whatsoever.
    The same is not true regarding the ways of salvation. God does require something from us in order to be saved. Nevertheless, we must never think that our compliance with God’s requirements contribute to the means of our salvation. On the contrary, Christ has assured us that even after we have done all that is required of us, we are still unprofitable servants in need of grace due to our sin problem.
    Unfortunately, most of Christendom has taken this one step further and taught that if we contribute to either the means or the ways of salvation, then we have somehow earned something and that God is in our debt.

  15. eric says:

    I just finished reading “A Guide for the Perplexed” by Moses Maimonides a Jewish rabbi from the 12th century. In it he points out that many of the more symbolic and difficult to understand parts of the law were aimed at combating the pagan heritage of the people. He describes it like this, to stop offering sacrifices and performing ritual acts at temples would be the same as asking us to stop praying and singing. He goes on to describe how God used those acts to bring the people together and to keep them focused on Him instead of the harvest or fertility gods. The rest of the law was aimed at social justice. Looking out for those who needed looking out for and treating one another with love and kindness. His take on the law was that it was instruction for living.
    At first I was concerned about his setting aside the more symbolic acts when he didn’t believe in Christ as Lord. But then I remembered that Christ addressed the divorce issue the same way when he said that Moses allowed it only because their hearts were hard. So I see Christ giving a peek into the heart of Gods motive to help people overcome their own hard hearts through the law while also leading them down a path to a true worship in Love for Him and a love for one another.
    Into this world Christ shows up and like the prophets stresses the parts of Gods instruction that focus on God’s heart. His love for us and His desire for us to love each other. Christ ultimately does what God has been doing all along serving, teaching and sacrificing Himself for us. The perfect example of a God that created, provided, parented and forgave our short comings. In my opinion forgiveness is the spiritual equivalent of dying to oneself. We were created in Gods image and God has forgiven us for perverting His image. He’s not content to leave us this way and has given us this grand opportunity to return home through His son who has shown the way. So it seems the desire here is to get us focused on our hearts. If we love God and one another it just follows that we will seek to help and serve the ones we love with what we have. If in turn the only reason we perform some act of righteousness is to get God to do us some kindness then we have missed the point and returned to the pagan world of enticing gods to do things for us by doing things for them. Not I think what God is after.

  16. Royce Ogle says:


    In your next post you quote this passage

    “22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:22-24

    I think of those 3,000 plus who were saved after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. They were a wicked lot many of whom Peter had just been accused of murder by Peter. In a matter of minutes these ungodly, and even wicked, blood thirsty men, were suddenly fit for heaven. Where did their righteousness come from? It came as a free gift from God. He credited them righteous based not on them, but rather based upon the work of Jesus for them.

    Maybe it’s the word “imputed” that causes so many people to object. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that for those who put their trust in Jesus they are declared righteous. It is the sort of faith that lays aside any hope of personal righteousness or merit before a holy God and throws it’s self at the mercy of God who has promised right standing for those who believe.

    Unless God gives a sinner righteousness he certainly has none. Whatever you call that, salvation is of the Lord and He needs no help to save a sinner.

  17. laymond says:

    Royce said; “Unless God gives a sinner righteousness he certainly has none. Whatever you call that, salvation is of the Lord and He needs no help to save a sinner.”
    ” He needs no help to save a sinner.”
    Except the help of being open to salvation, with a repentant heart that God can see.

  18. Jay Guin says:


    Unquestionably the saved are declared righteous because of the sacrifice of Jesus. I’m just saying that the Reformation doctrine of imputed righteousness, in which the perfect life of Jesus is imputed to the convert, is not provably the means by which God does this. The verses that supposedly support that teaching don’t say what they’re claimed to say.

    Is it a free gift? Of course. Rom 3:24 uses the metaphor of redemption, that is, paying a price to free someone from slavery. It’s both an allusion to the Exodus and to the enslaving nature of sin. And the price is the sacrifice Jesus made for us — a reference both to the Law of Moses, in which sacrifice was the price of forgiveness, and to Jesus as examplar, that is, as being both what Israel was meant to be and what the church would be called to –living sacrifices with lives committed to service and submission and suffering for others.

    All that’s true. And there are other threads that wind through the scriptures and converge at the crucifixion and our salvation — ALL with the result that salvation is a free gift. After all, Israel did not pay anything for their rescue from Egypt. It was God honoring his covenant with Abraham, just as it is for us. God saved Israel because of his righteousness — his covenant faithfulness.

    The idea of imputed righteousness is not particularly problematic, that is, if it’s true, it fits well enough with everything else. The problem is that our thinking stops there, as though that’s the full explanation and as though, in imputed righteousness, we’ve gotten to the bottom of what God is doing. And yet it’s not even how the New Testament writers express their teaching.

    And that means we’re not learning all there is to learn or benefiting all there is to benefit. There’s so much more!

    I should add that imputed righteousness, while not problematic in principle, has created some issues for the church. One is that a few have used the theology to argue that our works don’t matter to God — resulting in lazy Christianity, indeed, in the Germary of Bonhoeffer, an adulterated Christianity that largely capitulated to the Nazis. It doesn’t have to happen that way, but when we preach imputed righteousness and stop there, as though that’s the sum total of atonement, we do set up such a disastrous result because our preaching omits God’s purposes and our place in God’s story. We get baptized, get saved, and wait patiently for the return of Jesus.

    Just so, taken as the totality of our atonement, it leads to such practices as telling a perfect stranger that all he has to do is invite Jesus into his heart or come forward to be baptized, as though the totality of Christianity is the moment of conversion. After all, as soon as we say the magic words or submit to the magic ritual, God’s purposes are utterly complete in us because he only sees Jesus when he looks at us — or so goes the argument.

    Again, it’s not that imputed righteousness creates these problems ipso facto, but our tendency to treat imputed righteousness as the entirety of the gospel. And this means it’s very, very proper to question the truth behind the doctrine — and even better yet, to see whether there’s more there that might bring us closer to understanding our God and our Savior.

    Hence, I’m very wary of those who want to end all discussion with imputed righteousness and see no point in digging deeper. It’s in the digging deeper that our understanding is radically transformed — and so is the church — into the image of Christ.

  19. Royce Ogle says:


    I agree with what you say here, especially about the abuses. And, I’m confident you will agree that our coc theology of salvation has a bit to be desired as well. I will not take the time to spell it out.

    What should matter to every follower of Jesus is that without His coming, His life, His death, and His resurrection no man has any hope beyond this life. When we worship together, commune together, and encourage one another, it is in view of what God has done through the person of Christ that could not be done without Him.

    Lets be honest. Our churches of filled with people who don’t know if they will be saved or not, have no assurance, primarily because they have been taught that their salvation depends largely on how well they perform. God never intended such a thing to be true. It is foreign to Scriptures for the assembled body of Christ to worship and give thanks for what God has done for them and at the same time have a real fear in their hearts that they might not actually enjoy the promises God has made. Our confidence rests in his faithfulness to his own promises, not how well we respond to them.

  20. I am intrigued by Alexander’s analogy of becoming a naturalized citizen of the US. Partly because the idea draws so many interesting parallels, but mainly because it exposes a big hole in our understanding about being born again. We are NOT naturalized citizens of the Kingdom, rather we are BORN into the Kingdom. We are not naturalized, but are natural citizens of the Kingdom by birth. It is our failure to understand this, or to accept it, and to think of ourselves as somehow “naturalized”, which is a fundamental error. I think we sometimes reflect this misunderstanding when we describe ourselves as “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” In other words, “I don’t really belong here, but boy, am I glad to be on board!” What a half-baked, anthropocentric view of being “in Christ” this is. We are BORN citizens, and there is a big difference.

    The biggest difference, as it relates to Alexander’s analogy, is that American law makes no provision for “banishing” a natural citizen. Behave badly enough, and you may spend your entire life in a cell, but it will be an American cell, and you will be an American the whole time, even when you die. You might even be executed for a horrible crime, but you will be executed as an American. Even if you are a traitor to America, you would be executed as an American traitor. Nothing makes an American into a non-American except voluntary relinquishment of one’s citizenship in choosing to change allegiance to another country.

    What a great picture of the permanency of our position in Christ. Yes, you can relinquish your citizenship, but if you are born a citizen, you cannot be made an ex-citizen even by the most heinous of acts. Yes, you may be disciplined by the King lightly or harshly for rebelliousness- perhaps even unto death- but even in so doing, you still retain your citizenship.

    I think we forget that it is GOD who has added US to the body of Christ, for we sometimes act and think as though we enrolled ourselves by believing– or by doing The Five-Step, or whatever. But all of living creation reflects this basic reality: children are born by the volition of their parents, not of their own. That is the part of the birth analogy which may make us the most uncomfortable as we contemplate our place in the family of God.

  21. aBasnar says:

    I completely agree with this one:

    I think we sometimes reflect this misunderstanding when we describe ourselves as “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” In other words, “I don’t really belong here, but boy, am I glad to be on board!” What a half-baked, anthropocentric view of being “in Christ” this is. We are BORN citizens, and there is a big difference.

    And since all analogies fail sooner or later: I do believe that God will banish the unfaithful ones again. Knowing this could become an endless debate, I leave it at this 😉


  22. Price says: said.”One is that a few have used the theology to argue that our works don’t matter to God — resulting in lazy Christianity, indeed, in the Germary of Bonhoeffer, an adulterated Christianity that largely capitulated to the Nazis. ” I believe we tend to confuse the “salvation” issue with the “sanctification or Christian growth” issue..The two are separate. As Royce suggested, the new converts at Pentecost were a moment beyond salvation yet they were hardly “working” out their faithfulness perfectly. They, as we today, make many a mistake… but we learn from our mistakes, hopefully, as God directs that life education. However, we are no less saved. I’m not sure that most understand what Sanctification is all about and tend to confuse it with Salvation. Have you ever posted something on Sanctification and its applications?

  23. Alabama John says:


    I like what C. S. Lewis said: “We are not a body with a soul, we are a soul with a body”

  24. Jay Guin says:

    Price asked,

    Have you ever posted something on Sanctification and its applications?

    I tend not to use the “justification” and “sanctification” vocabulary because it so often leads to confusion as applied to “justification” per the recent post on the subject. But I talk about sanctification all the time, most commonly in terms of the work of the Spirit. Then I speak of “transformation” — which is also biblical and brings about an emphasis that I’d like to think is helpful.

    There are posts coming in this series that speak of transformation in some detail.

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