Faith Without Works is Dead
Vol: 119 Issue: 25 Thursday, August 25, 2011
One of the main arguments against the doctrine of eternal security to those who don’t understand it is that its opponents believe it is a ‘license to sin’.
Salvation is a three step process. First, one must recognize his condition as a sinner. Secondly, that person must recognize that Jesus paid the penalty for that sin on the Cross. And third, that sinner must repent and be converted;
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
When one repents of one’s sin and trusts Jesus, then the Scripture says one becomes ‘a new creature’. “. . .old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2nd Corinthians 5:17)
Repentance means more than mere sorrow or regret or despair or grief over sin. Bible repentance means a change of mind toward God that results in a change of action.
Writes Robert Girdlestone in “Synonyms of the Old Testament”;
“Repentance is neither sorrow without change or change without sorrow, but it is such a deep feeling of sorrow as gives rise to a determination to change.”
“Repentance is a change of mind or purpose. Until a man repents he commonly feels comfortable about himself and his “ways; but when the Savior, through the Spirit, gives him repentance, he changes his mind about himself, and seeing nothing good in his heart or in his works, his whole soul cries out, “Lord be merciful to me, as sinner.” (William Cathcart, Baptist Encyclopedia)
James Stewart explained ‘repentance’ this way in his book, “Evangelism”;
“Repentance is included in believing. Howbeit, repentance is not faith, nor faith repentance. ‘He that believeth’ implies repentance. ‘Repent and be converted’ involves faith. The hand that clutches the assassin’s knife must open it ‘ere it can grasp the gift its intended victim proffers; and opening that hand, though a single act, has a double aspect and purpose. Accepting the gift implies a turning from the crime the heart was bent on, and it was THE GIFT ITSELF that worked the change.”
Before looking more deeply into what repentance is, let’s take a look at what repentance is NOT.
Repentance isn’t fear of God’s anger coming from a consciousness of guilt or grief as a consequence of that guilt.
Judas was guilty of the greatest crime in human history — the betrayal of the Son of God. The Bible says that he was so filled with despair that he went out and hanged himself.
There is no indication that Judas had any sorrow for any other sin in his life, and he asked no pardon for his betrayal of Jesus. Judas’ despair was the result of great regret, but was not the same as repentance.
Judas had no change of mind, nor a change of heart. Rather than resolving to live a changed life and trusting the Lord for his forgiveness, he pronounced judgment upon himself and sentenced himself to death.
He was sorry for his crime, but he had no faith in forgiveness. He trusted to his own works.
The Greek word translated ‘repentance’ is ‘metanoeo’, which involves four things, according to R.C. Trench’s “Synonyms of the New Testament.”
1) “To know after,” 2) the change of mind consequent on this after-knowledge, 3) regret for the course pursued, resulting from the change of mind consequent on this after-knowledge, and, 4) the change of conduct for the future, springing from all this.
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines metanoeo (‘repent’ as a verb) as ‘to change one’s mind’. Thayer’s defines ‘metanoia’ (‘repentance’ the noun) as “to change one’s mind for the better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.”
Repentance, as it relates to salvation, means to turn to God from sin. It means to bow before Jesus Christ as the God of one’s life. It involves a change of mind concerning Whose will is supreme, and involves a change of action as a consequence. There can be no salvation without repentance.
Repentance is denying self (a negative) while by faith affirming Christ (a positive). Repentance looks within; faith looks above. Repentance exposes us as miserable sinners; faith delivers us from that misery.
“Repentance is hunger, faith is the open mouth, and Christ is the living Food,” writes Cathcart.
Those who don’t understand the doctrine of eternal security take their personal view of ‘repentance’ and apply it across-the-board, according to the prism of their own self-experience.
For example, the smoker who, upon being saved, is convicted that smoking is a sin (changes his mind) and repents (changes his action) and quits, then applies smoking as a litmus test against which to measure the repentance of others.
In this view, someone who gets saved and doesn’t give up smoking can’t still be saved because he hasn’t really repented of his sin. Do you see the fundamental flaw in this logic?
Repentance is a change of mind, followed by a corresponding change of action. But it isn’t an instantaneous change, or the Scripture;
“that He which hath BEGUN a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” would make no sense. (Philippians 1:6)
Repenting and trusting Jesus means turning their sin nature over to Jesus Christ, and being willing to allow Him to make the changes as He saw fit.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Romans 7:18)
To the guy who gave up smoking, the guy who hasn’t quit yet didn’t repent. To take this view, one has to ignore the fact that God isn’t done with this second guy yet.
He hath BEGUN a good work in him, but the Scriptures say it is a PROCESS in which He [Jesus] will CONTINUE to perform that good work until the day we stand before Him at the Bema Seat.
(Or else we have to tear that verse out of our Bibles.)
The sinner who will be saved MUST repent, and that repentance will ALWAYS result in a changed life.
Because those changes aren’t the ones somebody else (or even the sinner himself) expects to see doesn’t mean there is no repentance or no salvation or a loss of salvation.
The saved person KNOWS who they were before Christ. And the saved person marvels at the changes God has wrought in him — because HE knows what they are.
Even if those who would judge him by his outward performance do not.
I recall a discussion I had with the Lord not too long after I was saved. The moment I was saved, I gave up all the outward sins, smoking, drinking, swearing, etc. It wasn’t too long until the enemy threw me a few curves, and the next thing you know, there I was, right back where I started. Or so I thought.
I went for a long walk and I enquired of the Lord — what is wrong with me? Was my repentance insincere? Was my salvation a sham? How is it that the same God Who could speak the earth into existence out of nothing couldn’t give me the strength to keep me from picking up a cigarette? Where was my repentance? Was I still saved? Was I EVER saved?
And as I walked with Him, and questioned Him, He gave me the only answer that made sense. It was so obvious I wondered why I couldn’t see it before — I was walking with the Lord and asking Him why I hadn’t changed.
That’s when the lights came on. Before I got saved, I didn’t do that.
I went along my own way, running my life according to my own will and understanding, and the last thing I would have done would have been to go for a walk, talking to an invisible Savior and seeking His assurance and approval.
I still had a pack of cigarettes in my pocket, but I had changed my mind about myself, my relationship to God and my sin. My salvation had already produced evidence of a changed mind and a changed life.
As we walked, the Lord brought to my mind a whole list of things that I used to do that I didn’t do anymore. The changes just weren’t the ones I was expecting, in the order in which I had expected them.
The changes weren’t in the same order as in other people, but they were just as profound, since I KNOW who I was before. And so did God.
I was still a sinner. But I was a repentant sinner who was walking with God in the cool of the evening and I knew I had fellowship with Him because I WAS walking with Him in the cool of the evening, and seeking His will for my life.
The Apostle Paul, the greatest evangelist who ever lived, wrote of his own personal struggle with sin.
“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”
Paul cries out in seeming despair, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
Then the Lord gives him the answer to his question, just as He gave me mine.
“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21-25)
Eternal security is not license to sin. It is a recognition that sin exists in our lives, but also that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)
As I walked with the Lord, hating (but keeping) that pack of cigarettes in my pocket, was I walking after the flesh, or after the Spirit?
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof . . . for sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
My sin continued to exist, since I remain subject to the ‘law in my members’ but it no longer had dominion over me. I could still approach the Throne of Grace and seek His Face and pray with confidence.
The enemy’s efforts to convince me I was unworthy by virtue of my sin was overcome by God’s assurance I am forgiven by grace through faith. It wasn’t up to me — I didn’t need to give up in the face of my failure.
“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” (Romans 8:33)
Answering the objection that eternal security is the same as a ‘license to sin’, Paul writes;
“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”
What IS the sin unto death? There IS such a sin — the Bible says so;
“If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” (1 John 5:16)
John makes it clear that there are sins which are NOT unto death, but Paul says the wages of sin is death. A contradiction? In both cases, the context indicates the comments are addressed to believers. So what does it mean?
“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”
The Apostle John recorded Jesus’ teaching that, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)
It is the Holy Spirit that calls us to salvation. Rejecting that call is the sin unto death for which there is no forgiveness.
The Apostle James writes, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26)
Opponents of eternal security seize on the second half of that verse to prove the validity of works, instead of looking at the entire verse in context.
In context, note that James is using a dead (unquickened) spirit to contrast against a ‘dead faith’.
Faith is NOT the spirit and the spirit is not faith. One has a spirit whether one has faith or not. The two are not the same. But one’s spirit is ‘quickened’ — made alive, BY faith.
Hebrews 11:1 defines ‘faith’. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
If one has faith, but does no works of faith, how does it follow that means his spirit is killed — since, by definition, saving faith results in a ‘quickened’ spirit?
If one has faith, but does no works of faith, he will bear no fruit. Leading someone to Christ is a work of faith that bears fruit. Passing up an opportunity to witness because one is too ashamed is a fruitless exercise. Without works, that faith will bear no fruit.
But we are not saved by faithless works, we are saved by workless faith. Others are saved, i.e., led to Christ, by our works on behalf of the Gospel. Or they are not, due to our failure.
Paul writes of the fate of him that has faith without works when that one stands before the Bema Seat;
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.”
But note the following verse very carefully:
“If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: BUT HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; yet so as by fire.” (1st Corinthians 3:13-15)
Again, is this a contradiction? James says faith without works is dead, but Paul says that faith that produces no works will suffer the loss of rewards, before he notes carefully that loss of rewards isn’t the same as the loss of salvation.
Connecting the dots, we find the following:
1) Salvation is a free gift of grace, received by faith, and exclusive of works. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
2) Repentance means a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of action.
3) There is but one ‘sin unto death’. The only sin which will not be forgiven men is the rejection of salvation by denying the leading of the Holy Spirit.
4) Dead faith cannot produce spiritual fruit without works, so faith without works is dead.
5) Every person who by faith, accepts the free gift of salvation, will stand before the Bema Seat and be rewarded according to their works.
6) He who has no works will receive no reward, “BUT HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; yet so as by fire.”
Salvation comes by repentance for sin and faith in the completed work of the Cross as a substitutionary and all-sufficient sacrifice for sin.
Works of faith can only come AFTER that faith has been quickened by salvation. If the only sin unto death is the rejection of the free gift of salvation, then by definition, one who has saving faith has NOT rejected it.
His faith may not bear fruit, in which case, to all intents and purposes, that faith is ‘dead’ but the one with faith without works will ‘suffer loss’ but will himself be saved, ‘as by fire’.
This in no way means that works are irrelevant to bearing fruit, which is the Great Commission given to the Church, but it is clear that ‘works’ and ‘faith’ are two different things.
It offers no assurance that one can sin with impunity — sin bears its own reward, whether one is saved or lost.
Smokers get lung cancer, whether they are saved or not. Drug addicts overdose or die of disease brought on by a weakened immune system. Alcoholics get cirrhosis or die of some other alcohol related disease.
Sexual promiscuity yields a whole host of consequences, from the misery of divorce to the risk of death by sexually-transmitted diseases.
But only those who reject the offer of pardon procured for them by Jesus Christ at the price of His Own Blood sin the ‘sin unto death’.
The doctrine of eternal security is no license to sin, merely a recognition that sin exists, and that Jesus Christ alone has defeated sin’s eternal consequences.
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)
Salvation is an issue between an individual and Jesus Christ. Repentance cannot be faked — one KNOWS in one’s heart whether one has repented or not.
So does Jesus Christ. Trust Him.
“. . .yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (Romans 3:4)