3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (Romans 4:3–4, NKJV)
Obedience to Christ is not a work of merit that nullifies grace. The theology of Calvin has persuaded untold millions that obedience is a work that “earns” or merits salvation. If true, then James contradicts Paul, for he said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23). Faith is made complete by obedience. There is no contradiction in Scripture, only with Calvinism’s faulty definitions of faith and works. Like us all, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. Only perfect law-keeping (sinlessness) would nullify grace and make salvation a debt (Romans 4:4). The faith that saved Abraham was not sinless, but it was obedient (as witnessed in the matter of Isaac). Through the gospel, it is obedient faith that God counts for righteousness today. Obedience earns nothing; it is the action of a dutiful servant (Luke 17:10). Obedience is the work that justifies the ungodly, for without it, faith is dead (James 2:20). Obedient faith, not faith only, justifies sinners (James 2:24).
3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:3–6, NKJV)
As this passage explains how we are assured that we know God, it provides an inspired commentary on what it means to “walk in the light” in 1 John 1:7. Many are heard to say they “know God” (that they “walk in the light”). John explains how we are assured that we know God; “if” we keep His commandments (v. 3). Knowing God in this passage equates to practicing the truth and “walking in the light” in 1 John 1:6-7. We cannot disobey God and correctly claim to understand or know God. To say we know God while disobeying Him makes us a liar. The love of God does not live in disobedience; it is perfected (matured) by keeping His word (v. 5). One may indeed feel in his heart that they know God, but that is not how the Bible defines knowing God. To know God and to live in the love of God, we must “keep His commandments.” Obeying God is not an attempt to earn your way to heaven; It is the express of your love for God. The “truth is not in” the disobedient; He does not know God. To know God, walk as Christ walked. He always obeyed the Father (John 8:29; 12:48-50).
18 Then behold, men brought on a bed a man who was paralyzed, whom they sought to bring in and lay before Him. 19 And when they could not find how they might bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the housetop and let him down with his bed through the tiling into the midst before Jesus. 20 When He saw their faith, He said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (Luke 5:18–20, NKJV)
Jesus saw their faith, and forgave the man’s sins. In just this way, an active faith that is seen by God is the faith He requires of us for our forgiveness. Salvation is “by grace, through faith;” it is “not our yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Does anyone think that because Jesus saw their faith, the paralytic earned the right to be forgiven? Certainly not! Why then, is there so much objection to saving faith being one that obeys the Lord’s commands (to repent and be baptized, Acts 2:38; Mk. 16:16)? You see, faith that cannot be seen is incomplete (James 2:17-18). Faith must be coupled with the action of faith (obedience), because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Saving faith is active, it is obedient to the word of Jesus. Obedient faith does not earn the right to be saved. Salvation is the gift of God, and Jesus gave that gift of salvation to the paralytic. But, what he had not lowered him into Christ’s presence? Without their active faith, he would have not been saved. Do you have faith to obey Jesus, to be saved by His grace? Does Jesus see your faith?
He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is careless of his ways will die. (Proverbs 19:16, NKJV)
Many who claim the name of Christ easily disparage Christians who are careful to follow the word of God as “hyper-conservative,” or even as “legalistic.” When the Scriptures are consulted, there is no doubt that careful obedience is precisely what faith demands. The progressive mindset is willing to broaden and expand the definition and application of truth. Pontius Pilate could be the progressives’ poster child, for it was he who said, “What is truth?” God has revealed truth in an understandable and believable way. Furthermore, its commands can be kept, for by so doing, one guards his very soul from sin’s death. When one is careless with the word of God, he is being careless with his soul. The evangelist Timothy was commended for carefully following the apostle’s teaching and manner of life (2 Tim. 3:10-11). Instead of sneering at those who keep the commands of God, follow their example. Your soul is worth keeping God’s commands (read Matt. 16:24-26).
9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9–11, NKJV)
Jesus reminded His disciples that now is the time for diligent work in the service of God (Jno. 9:3-4). Now is not the time to rest. God has created good works in which we must walk (Eph. 2:10). So, we must not be sluggish and neglectful, but energetically obedient in doing the will of God. Notice in verse 11 that obedience is equivalent to being “diligent to enter that rest” that awaits us, since not to be diligent amounts to disobedience. Here is another place where faithful obedience is defined as the “work” we do – not to earn heaven, but as our dutiful, faithful obedience to our Master. Death brings blessed rest “from their labors” to those who die in the Lord, and “their works follow them” (Rev. 14:13). Please do not confuse the diligent work of obedience with an attempt to earn one’s way into heaven. Obedience to the Lord is our faith doing His works, all the while anticipating our eternal rest.
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Galatians 3:1–2, NKJV)
Christ expects Christians to obey the truth. Our obedience is not meritorious; we do not earn the right to be saved in heaven through our obedience. Obedience is the natural and completing action of belief; without obedience, faith is incomplete and powerless to save (Jas. 2:17-26). Obedience to Christ is the reasonable response of observing the crucified Christ, who has been put on full display by the gospel. Like a billboard on the roadside, the gospel announces the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to the world as the means of our salvation (something the works of the law of Moses could not do). The “hearing of faith” describes the gospel, “the faith” preached by the apostles (Gal. 1:11, 23). The faith (gospel) produces personal faith, and personal faith is made complete by obeying the truth (Rom. 1:17; Heb. 5:8-9). Are you obeying the truth in faith, or are you relying on something less than the gospel and complete faith to save your soul? Live each day by faith in obedience to the truth of Jesus.
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. (James 2:20–23, NKJV)
James makes two piercing statements in today’s passage: “Do you want to know?”, and “Do you see?” The necessity of faith and works (of faith, that is, obedience) is easily demonstrated in the action of Abraham when he offered Isaac on the altar. Do you want to know that faith without works is dead (v. 20)? Some do not. They want to cling to the false teaching that faith only saves? (It does not, for James said a man is “justified by works and not be faith only,” Jas. 2:24.) Do you see that faith is complete only when it is combined with obeying the Lord’s command (v. 22)? When Abraham’s faith was made perfect (complete) by his obedience, his faith was accounted to him for righteousness (v. 23). This does not mean you earn your salvation. It means that incomplete faith will not save you. It is made whole by obeying God. We are friends of God when by faith, we obey Jesus (Jno. 15:14). Do you want to know? Do you see?