6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; (Romans 2:6–7, NKJV)
God’s judgments are just. The Old Testament law and prophets relied on this basic truth when they said, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20; see Deuteronomy 24:16). Despite this, many still believe men and women are born sinners (born with a sin nature), inheriting the guilt and depravity of Adam’s sin. Yet, today’s passage assures eternal life to those who continue doing what is good because they are seeking “glory, honor, and immortality.” What is the good we must patiently continue to do to receive eternal life? The apostle John said it is practicing righteousness: “My little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). The “doing good” that will be rewarded with eternal life is faithful obedience to God (Ephesians 2:10). Today’s question is this: Are you seeking heaven? If so, do you have faith that God will render to you according to your deeds? If so, then do the will of God and be blessed with eternal life. God will keep His word and deliver you a just judgment according to your deeds.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:8–9, NKJV)
It is said that the city of Smyrna in the first century claimed to be “first in beauty, first in literature, first in loyalty to Rome” (Commentary of Revelation, Hailey, 125). It was the seat of the Caesar-cult that afflicted the church during that period. So, Christ assured the saints at Smyrna that He is the First and the Last. No doubt, His primacy of deity and His power over death emboldened them in the face of what they were about to suffer for the name of Jesus (Revelation 2:10). Jesus knew their works (toil), their tribulation (distress and oppression), and their poverty (they were rich in faith, James 2:5; Matthew 6:20). Jesus also knows the words and deeds of the enemies of righteousness, just like He knew those who claimed to be God’s people (Jews) but were not His people (cf. Romans 2:28-29). Those who oppose and oppress Christians and their faithful service to Jesus are a congregation of Satan, serving his evil intents and aims. Take heart and be strong, Christian, when the world hates you. Know they hated Jesus before they hated you (John 15:18). Christ is Lord, not Caesar or any other ruler on earth.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10, NKJV)
The Protestant Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church fell far short of restoring New Testament Christianity. One such area was its failure to return to the Scriptural (and thus, essential) place of obedience to God to be saved “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Obedience is an “unprofitable” servant’s faith at work (Luke 17:10). Protestantism opted to demonize every kind of work while codifying salvation by faith only, even though Scripture says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). And, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Nineveh’s salvation from God’s imminent destruction well illustrates the part that a working faith plays in salvation. Why would God consider Nineveh’s “works” at all, if works have nothing to do with God’s gift of salvation (Jonah 3:7-9, 10)? Jesus endorsed their works as proof that “they repented” (Luke 11:32). Even so, we do not earn salvation when we obey God’s command to repent (Acts 17:30). But, without obeying God and repenting of sins, we will not receive His grace that saves our soul. Repentance is a work of faith, a condition we must meet to be saved (Acts 3:19). God has given commands we must obey as conditions to be saved “by grace through faith.” Unless we obey them, we do not trust God. All we have is a dead faith.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:9, NKJV)
To be justified means to be declared righteous, free of guilt and innocent of sin. The death of Jesus is the basis for our justification from sin. Without it we would have no way to be freed from the guilt of our sins and the wrath sin brings (Romans. 3:19; 6:23). The New Testament attributes the sinner’s justification to many things, including God’s grace (Romans 3:24), man’s faith (Galatians 2:16), and the works of faith (James 2:24). God’s love prompted the sacrificial death of His only begotten Son on Calvary’s cross (Romans 5:6-8). Although Christ died for every sinner, only those who have faith in Jesus are saved from wrath through Him (Romans 3:26; 5:9). Yet, sinners are not justified by “faith only” (James 2:24). Faith is dead without obedience to the word of God (James 2:17, 20). Do you have faith to do whatever Jesus commands of you? Or, is your faith merely an affirmation without obedience? Whoever “fears God and works righteousness” is acceptable to Him, not because they earn justification, but because they believe God justifies them by the blood of His Son when they obey His word (Acts 10:34-35). It should not surprise us that water baptism is the action of obedient faith by which sinners obtain justification by Christ’s death (Romans 6:4; Acts 22:16). The nature of your faith is crucial in assuring your justification by the blood of Jesus.
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.