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).
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?
1 Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? 2 He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart… (Psalm 15:1-2, NKJV)
The one who “works righteousness” finds a place of spiritual rejuvenation in God’s tent. Working righteousness has a bad theologian reputation due to a dramatic failure to properly demarcate works of merit (by which one earns His standing before God, Rom. 4:2, 4; Eph. 2:9) from works of faith (the obedience that completes faith, Jas. 2:17, 20, 22, 24). The apostle Peter told Cornelius and his house that God accepts all who fear Him and “work righteousness” (Acts 10:35). We are confident He still does. God’s inspired word contains the “instruction in righteousness” that equips us “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). John said, “He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 Jno. 3:7). Without living in obedience to Christ’s truth we will not be righteous nor dwell in God’s presence.
37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him. (John 10:37–38, NKJV)
Jesus does not expect you to blindly follow Him. Faith is not blind; it is built upon evidence (Heb. 11:1). With eyes wide open, faith sees and accepts the evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The works of Jesus give powerful testimony that He is the Son of God. When questioned whether He was the Christ, Jesus directed John to what He was doing: 2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 and said to Him, “are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matt. 11:2-6). Even His enemies did not dispute His great miracles (Jno. 11:47). Secure your faith in Jesus as the Son of God by believing His works.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NKJV)
Given by grace, salvation is the gift of God. This great and marvelous truth is confirmed in Romans 6:23, “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. God’s gift of salvation is obtained “through faith”. Faith is the sinner’s response to the gospel (which is the “word of His grace”, Acts 20:24, 32). Faith comes by hearing the word of God, therefore, one cannot be saved without knowing and believing the gospel (Rom. 10:17). But, salvation “through faith” is not faith “only”, since confession of one’s faith, repentance of sins and water baptism are necessary actions of faith inseparably connected to salvation (see Romans 10:9-10; Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21). When a person with faith obeys the “gospel of the grace of God” he does not merit his salvation (“not of works”); he accepts God’s gift “through faith”. Faith that is void of obedience is not salvation faith. What kind of faith do you choose to have today?
6 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you. (Titus 2:6-8 )
It is a tremendously important opportunity and responsibility to set an example for others. Young men are here exhorted to accept the challenge to order their minds and conduct in ways that impact those around them for truth and righteousness. Young Christians have many peers who do not share their faith. Set an example for the unbelievers that will influence them for Christ and their salvation. Be their reason to obey and praise God; not their reason to reject Christ and His gospel.