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In what way are we saved by both faith AND works

The New Testament explicitly states in James 2:24-26 that we are ‘justified’ by both faith and works. In multiple other passages (Rom 2:6-8, Gal 6:7-9, Luke 18:18-23) it affirms that we receive eternal life as a result of good works. This seems to be the opposite of what those same chapters teach elsewhere (Rom 3:28).

My conclusion is:

God saves His chosen people from their sins, makes them His children and empowers them to obey Him. If they patiently obey until the end with the power He provides then they will inherit eternal reward. However, if that child sin’s with a ‘high hand’, God’s own hand will crush him in eternal wrath.

Following is my attempt at understanding this apparent tension. 

1. There must be some way in which we are justified by works

Jas 2:24 ESV You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Rom 2:6-8 ESV He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;

If these verses are not meant to convey that we are in some way justified by works then it is not possible to convey such an idea using the English language. These passages and their context are explicitly clear. If they cannot be understood to mean what they say then there is no passage that we can confidently understand.

2. The concept of justification by works is found throughout the Bible

The verse list here is by no means comprehensive. Yet it demonstrates that there are verses throughout the Bible that affirm this idea. Often the books that most strongly argue for salvation by faith also include references that support salvation by works.

3. Believers are given a grand object lesson to help them understand salvation

Rom 15:4 ESV  For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1Co 10:6 ESV  Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

1Co 10:11 ESV  Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Heb 4:11 ESV  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

The Old Testament and specifically the Exodus is presented as a guide to understanding our faith. Central to this discussion are the passages in 1 Cor 10 and Heb 4 which draw parallels to our eternal destiny. There are in fact a multitude of parallels between Israel and the church. But here are the ones pertinent to this discussion:

We were slaves

Israel: Exo 1:12-13 ESV  … And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.  13  So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves

Church: Rom 6:20 ESV  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

God chooses a people for himself

Israel: Deu 7:6 ESV  “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Church: Col 3:12 ESV  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

The people are saved from wrath through the blood of a Lamb

Israel: Exo 12:5-13 ESV  Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats,  … 7  “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.  … It is the LORD’s Passover.  12  For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.  13  The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.   
Jud 1:5 ESV  Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

Christians: 1Pe 1:18-19 ESV  knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold,  19  but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

The people are delivered from bondage by the power of God

Israel: Exo 6:6 ESV  Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.

Church: Rom 6:22 ESV  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

The people are baptised

Israel: 1Co 10:1-2 ESV  For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,  2  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

Church: Gal 3:27 ESV  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

The people partook of ‘Christ’

Israel: 1Co 10:1-4 ESV  For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,  2  and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,  3  and all ate the same spiritual food,  4  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Church: Mat 26:26 ESV  Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

The people survived by relying on the promises of God

Israel: Deu 8:3 ESV  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Church: Gal 2:20 ESV  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Obedience was mandatory

Israel: 1Co 10:5-10 ESV  Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.  6  Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.  7  Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”  8  We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.  9  We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  10  nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Church: Heb 10:28-30 ESV  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  29  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  30  For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

Continued reliance on blood sacrifice was mandatory

Israel: Exo 30:10 ESV  Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”  Lev 16:15 ESV  “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.

Church: Heb 9:24-26 ESV  For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  25  Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,  26  for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Final rest was dependent on faith and obedience

Israel: Heb 3:7-11 ESV  Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice,  8  do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,  9  where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.  10  Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’  11  As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Church: Heb 3:15-18 ESV  As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  16  For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?  17  And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  18  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?

4. Saved by grace, faith and obedience

These are the conclusions we can draw:

  1. We are saved by God’s grace. God graciously chooses us based on no merit in ourselves. 
  2. We are saved by faith in the blood of the Lamb. We must trust in Jesus sacrifice to be delivered from sin and wrath.
  3. Our daily lives must be lived by faith in the promises of God.
    1. First, it is He who feeds us and empowers us to do whatever we do (Jn 15:5)
    2. Second, it is He who daily forgives us of our sins (Mat 6:11-12)
  4. Without the above we would be enslaved to sin, under judgment and destined for condemnation.
  5. We enter the final rest if we continue to obey. This does not provide grounds for boasting because:
    1. The ability to obey is possible only because we have been set free from sin by God
    2. Nor is our obedience the basis on which we enter this rest. Our obedience can never undo guilt of past sins. 
    3. Thus, obedience to God is essential. But one cannot rely on that obedience as the grounds on which they might enter the eternal rest.

5. Objections

Someone could still boast and Paul says there is no room for boasting

And that person who boasts is a fool. He boasts in that which we does not understand. Stupid people should not contribute to the way in which we understand doctrine.

There are verses that categorically state that we are not saved by works

And there are verses that categorically state that we are. Sometimes the reason is that the salvation in mind is different to what we have in mind. The scriptures talk of a present salvation and a future salvation. Problems arise when we merge those two into a single salvation.

Present Salvation

Eph 2:5 ESV  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved

Tit 3:4-5 ESV  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  5  he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

Future Salvation

Mat 24:13 ESV  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

1Co 1:18 ESV  For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

1Co 5:5 ESV  you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

This idea of both a present and future salvation is what we would expect based on the experience of Israel. Israel were saved from slavery, they were being saved daily from the desert but they had still not reached their final promised salvation which was to be found in the promised land. They were saved, were being saved and were looking to a future salvation. The first two owed nothing to their obedience. The last one was dependent on obedience.

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