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  • Writer's picturejaredrrolston

Saving Faith, Body and Soul

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

Fighting Fair


Though I write some pretty hard-hitting and confronting things on this blog, my goal is always peace between brothers. The peace I aim for is not an easy peace, though. In some situations, there is no easy peace. We need, at times, the kind of peace that can only be obtained after having a fight.

When good men fight fair but firm - always insistent on fairness but never insulting the other by going easy - in the end, win or lose, they will earn the respect of the other.

While contending with brothers, it is important not to forget who you are fighting with. You want to cut off Goliath's head, but with your brother, you want him to tap out of a tight rare naked choke. In other words, you do not want to treat a brother like an enemy. In love, you want him to submit to the truth - you want to obligate belief through reason and proportionate rhetoric. Depending on the error, the rhetoric must change, and we must always lean toward gentleness. But when confronting any error, firm reason must be employed. And when it is between brothers, its firmness should not be considered adversarial.

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:17-18)



Not Fighting Fair


Recently, some men I consider Christian brothers have been attacking my brother, Bnonn Tennant, with indirect public social media jabs and in private huddles of the truly reformed (TR).

The charge is a denial of Sola Fide, a doctrine that he affirms. They do not want to engage with Bnonn, or myself, on the issue. They only insist on fighting dirty with punch-and-run tactics. They also protect themselves from any real fight by summoning what feels like an unassailable gang of agreement out of the range of their opponents, unconcerned with the discord they sow along the way (Proverbs 6:19). Summing up their tactics another way, they insist on fighting in an unfair and unChristian way, which does not lead to peace or respect.

But it would be wrong to give up on the possibility of us finding both again. With what I believe is coming, we could use the strength that comes after gaining a fought-for unity - hence this post. It would be better if we liked each other when sharing a jail cell. And it might help to go in there with some callouses too.

So, since no one will answer my calls, consider this blog a public invitation to the matt. A mat governed by God's rules.

Or maybe I can show you that you picked the wrong fight in the back alleys of Facebook - that we really do believe Sola Fide as it was historically defined.

This blog also serves as an opportunity for me to stand with my slandered brother. What he believes, I believe, so if he is being labeled a heretic, then I want to be labeled a heretic too.

James 2 clearly teaches that the faith of the justified is one that both works and believes. So, what will follow from this point will be my case for this robust view of Sola Fide. I will also give a few reasons why this view can and must be taught with greater clarity today.



Interpreting James


In James chapter two, James teaches that true faith is seen in time through works of faith. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?" (v.21) This is not a future vindication of faith but visible proof of its operation in time.

These works are proof of faith because the kind of faith that God graciously gifts to sinners (Eph. 2:8) by nature works. A lifeless faith that does not work will not save anyone (v.14). Therefore, to separate faith from works is like separating a body from its spirit (v.26). That would kill it. Faith is dead without the "spirit" of faith, which is its worksiness.

This is why James can say that "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." (v.24) Faith is incomplete when it is alone (v.22). Complete faith - body and soul (v.26) - faith and works - is the only kind of faith that justifies.

Therefore, James' definition of faith must be present in every appearance of the word (when it is saving) in Scripture. When Paul says in the letter to the Galatians, "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (2:16), he is referring here to the living faith described in James. To say that Paul refers to a faith that does not work undermines the teaching of James.

The works that our faith produces do not add to our righteousness. Faith grants us the possession of an alien righteousness - the righteousness of Christ. It is impossible to add to his merit or to savingly add to our own. We are justified by grace through a living faith, and this is the gift of God.

From the moment we are saved, we possess a living faith. The faith of the thief on the cross may not have produced many works in the short time it expressed itself on earth. But its nature, from the beginning, was to work. Had he been let down from the cross, his faith would have soon produced visible works akin to Abraham's sacrifice and Rahab's harboring of spies.

These very reasonable beliefs regarding faith alone are not mine alone. Calvin said in his institutes:

"Those whom in mercy he has destined for the inheritance of eternal life, he, in his ordinary administration, introduces to the possession of it by means of good works. What precedes in the order of administration is called the cause of what follows. For this reason, he sometimes makes eternal life a consequent of works; not because it is to be ascribed to them, but because those whom he has elected he justifies, that he may at length glorify (Rom 8:30); he makes the prior grace to be a kind of cause, because it is a kind of step to that which follows. But whenever the true cause is to be assigned, he enjoins us not to take refuge in works, but to keep our thoughts entirely fixed on the mercy of God." - John Calvin, Institutes, 3.14.21- (Emphasis added)

It's a shame that this needs to be said, but my view should not be mistaken for the Catholic view, which claims that our works are meritorious and add to our faith, completing our justification. As Calvin said, we should take no refuge in our works.

Catholics also deny that salvation is solely a gift of God but is a synergistic work between God and man.


Bnonn and I both affirm that salvation is a monergistic work of a gracious God and that living faith, as defined by James, is the instrument of our justification.


We affirm Sola Fide.



Why this is important to get right


When faith is reduced (in effect) to the intellectual work of acknowledging Christ's propitiatory work on the cross for sinners, people can be misled to believe they have a saving faith. A correct intellectual assent won't save (James 2:19).


An incorrect emphasis will also twist and weaken a pastor's counseling. I have seen when one gets Sola Fide wrong, his systematic theology determines his emphasis rather than clear biblical instruction and precedent. A call to believe in the finished work of Christ will supersede the call to repentance.


The unregenerate man addicted to porn who, like the seed cast on rocky ground, zealously grabs hold of the cross as an opportunity to cleanse himself of guilt, primarily needs to hear that those who practice fornication will not inherit the kingdom of God. Notice I said, unregenerate man. His unregenerate rocky-seed kind of faith won't save him. Through a call to repentance, God might be pleased to drive him to greater dependence on him, and work in him a living faith that strives "for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14)


Since regeneration is not visible, we must constantly call all men to repentance, knowing that the gift of faith will produce repentance in them.


The reason Bnonn and I believe a robust view of Sola Fide must be recovered is because there is a real danger, under the current ministry of a gutted-out faith-alone, that the unrepentant could leave our church services with a false assurance of salvation.


The true Christian believes in Christ not merely as their atoning sacrifice but as their Lord (Romans 10:13). Of course, the Christian will believe in the atoning work of Christ on their behalf, but seeing his sacrifice as part of the full counsel of God, they will be led them to believe more than that one thing. True belief in the lordship of Christ will be seen in action.


John MacArthur shares this concern in his book Hard to Believe,


“Salvation isn’t the result of an intellectual exercise. It comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the Scripture; it’s the fruit of actions, not intentions. There’s no room for passive spectators: words without actions are empty and futile… The life we live, not the words we speak, determines our eternal destiny.” - John MacArthur, Hard to Believe, page 93

I believe that our capitulation to the covid regulations was partly due to the cheapening of salvation by grace through faith alone. We acted as though God is no longer in the business of removing lampstands.


Every church that Jesus warned in the book of Revelation was judged by its works. He said, "I know your works," and then gave instructions that showed their works mattered immensely (Revelation 2:2, 19, 3:1, 8, 15). When their works were inadequate, they were called to repentance, not to believe harder in the finished work of Christ.


Regardless of how we square this with Sola Fide, we must believe that God would write similar letters to the church today. He would employ similar language, being unconcerned, as he was back then, with those who would twist his instruction into proof texts for salvation by works.

The faith of Sola Fide, when properly understood, would be the reason why any of these historic churches did the works Christ required of them. They believed his warning and acted.

To believe Christ's warnings and not act is evidence that you have a demon-like faith (James 2:19) - one that knows God's holy standards but does not care to obey them. But at least the demon's faith led them to tremble in their rebellion.


You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)


Conclusion


I do not fight for fun. I do not get paid for my ministry here or anywhere else. All I stand to gain here is my brothers.


I hope this firm and fair word will be received well by all and that reason will prevail, leading to the strengthening of relationships between the churches. If not, I am still pleased to stand for the truth and with my brother.


Bnonn has read and approved this post, along with my understanding of his views.


All interaction with this content is welcome. God bless.

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jaredrrolston
jaredrrolston
Dec 15, 2022

I want to add to this post an excellent excerpt from"The Reformed Pastor" by Richard Baxter the 16th century Puritan that sums up the heart of . The description of those who have undertaken the work of the ministry may not be fitting in this case, but the need to firmly admonish them is. As the quote says, to give up on my brethren would be wrong. "Too many who have undertaken the work of the ministry do so obstinately proceed in self-seeking, negligence, pride, and other sins, that it is become our necessary duty to admonish them. If we saw that such would reform without reproof, we would gladly forbear the publishing of their faults. But when reproofs themselves…

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