Let's be reasonable with one another, shall we?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guest Post: What's Faith Got to Do With It?

Another person's take on the book of James, 'guaranteed works' of believers, and the danger of marginalization of FG via the current "conversation" within.

by Jim Reitman, aka "Agent4Him"

In reply to the question “What if faith does not guarantee works?” I would say that this in fact is the starting premise of the whole book of James! Faith was not at all producing the works that should have been evident among people of faith, and that is precisely our problem today among people of faith.

The thematic verses, 1:2-4, make it clear that the immediate objective of trials is to challenge our faith to produce works might make us “whole” and “perfect.” But “whole” and “perfect” in what measure? It is the “commodity” of the righteousness of God. The larger objective of works of faith in James is that as children of God we might vindicate our birth as His “firstfruits” (1:18)—”friends of God” who display His righteousness to the world (1:19-20, cf. 2:23).

To this end, the most exemplary works of righteousness are those that are rooted in God’s heart of compassion and longsuffering for His people (Ex 34:6). And what are the main “trials” we face that are meant to elicit these works of compassion and longsuffering? Invariably (look at the entire NT epistolary corpus), this entails the grueling challenge of loving those who are “hard-to-love” within the body of Christ. This is epitomized by the teaching on manifested righteousness in Matt 5 and 1 John 2:29-3:18, as well as Christ’s repeated injunction that others will know who we are by our love for one another (cf. John 13:35).

I contend that the “goal” of works in 2:14-26 as it relates to faith is no different than in 1:2-4: It is that “faith is perfected [or brought to completion] by works” (2:22) as we face trials. While God was among “the twelve tribes scattered” intent on purifying His people in the “commodity” of righteousness for His name’s sake, the most important works—those that display the righteousness of God—were sorely lacking, just as they were lacking among the Israelites for most of their prior history.

Thus, the message of 2:14-26 is addressed to a people who were not demonstrating the mercy and compassion to others that should be manifested among the people of God who were birthed by Him by grace through faith (1:17-18). If they claimed to have faith, they should be demonstrating their faith by “doing” the righteousness of God in their interaction with one another (1:19-20). If, as you claim “I don’t think practically we can look at anyone’s works and tell anything about their own eternal destiny,” how in the world could you see that “a man is justified by works” (2:24)??? How else could Abraham be “called a friend of God” by those who observed his works (2:23)???

Consequently, however we view the controversial 2:18, it is incongruent with James’ argument to claim that he was not advocating a disposition of “I will show you my faith by my works.” While it is ridiculous to claim from 2:14-26 that “faith guarantees works” (in fact the passage argues the converse—”works make faith visible and bring faith to completion”), I think it is a mistake to shrink from the obvious communicative intent of the passage out of fear that Lordship people will abuse it: James is clearly seeking to humiliate people who are assumed to be “family” and claim to have faith but have little or nothing to show for it! They should precisely be showing their faith by works!

Along these lines, IMO, one all-too-evident problem within the FG movement at the present time is that we, of all people in the Body, are so stuck on “protecting” faith alone in Christ alone from any “contamination” by works (lest we “facilitate” incursions by errant Reformed and Lordship theologies) that we are shooting each other over “the right formula for salvation” rather than “provoking one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). So, we in FG—who argue most vociferously against works as a “marker” of salvation—are the very ones to whom James’ message is most appropriately addressed.

In response to Christ’s work of atonement, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation precisely by becoming the (visible) righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:17-21). If we don’t make more progress in taking seriously James’ injunctions in the way we treat each other, being reconciled to one another, our only “completing” or “perfecting” will be our total marginalization from the larger Body of Christ.


  • Hi Rose!!

    Nice guest you got there. :D Even I find this post provoking.

    Dr. Charlie Bing taught during the FGA national conference, which is paraphrased here and available on video here,

    "Can good works prove salvation? That's an interesting question.

    -Good works can characterize non-Christians
    -Good works are hard to define anyway
    -Some good works are going to be burned at the judgement seat
    -Some good works are not visible, because they are passive in nature; for instance much of the obedience we give to Christ involves not doing something, such as saying no to temptation. Or another example is prayer, which is unseen.
    -Good works can be deceptive
    -Good works can be inconsistent, someone can have a "bad day"

    I am certain that this is an important teaching from scripture. On the other hand it does not make sense that the most righteous people walking the earth would be the most odd and sinful ever.

    Don't we need to break this down? Dr. Bing said (I paraphrase) "We can become legalists by trying to measure the salvation of others." Therefore we had to break it down in the face of LS teaching and clearly draw the conceptual difference and distinction between justification and sanctification. Only through separating the two can we maintain a gospel of faith-righteousness, which of course is of the highest importance.

    Now that that has been done, I think as you are saying we need to put all the pieces back together again and admit that those who are righteous by faith that is alone, should not show themselves truly "easy believers" which can be done through demonstrating the opposite of the example Jesus set, and the example he set was washing the feet of His disciples.

    Thanks for posting this

    By Blogger Sanctification, at 7/01/2009 1:24 AM  

  • Hi Jim,

    Would you listen to Dr. Bing's presentation, minutes 29:00 - 33:30 ? I'd like to hear your response even if it means repeating yourself.


    By Blogger Sanctification, at 7/01/2009 1:34 AM  

  • Hi Michele,

    If I might turn a phrase in reply to your very thoughtful (and IMO, crucial) comments: Yes, I intended the post to be "provoking"---to "love and good works."

    Ah, yes. "Good works." The original "tar-baby" that runs all the way through the NT:

    "Master, what good works must I do...?"

    "You brood of vipers...you tithe mint, and dill and cumin...but..."

    "Who warned you of the wrath to come! The axe is laid at the root of the tree...do works worthy of repentance...!"

    I completely agree with what you have capsulized from Charlie Bing's talk, lots of "good works" have nothing to do with our identity in Christ---that is certainly obvious. But what good works "characterize Christians" as opposed to non-Christians?

    James' thought is rooted in OT concepts of righteousness. YHWH's charge to Israel was to "be a blessing," a "light to the Gentiles," that the nations "might know me." And how would they do that? By looking like him---"righteous," "holy," whatever that is. And that's the question, isn't it? If good works can "prove" one's identity as the people of YHWH, which ones are the ones that show us to be "righteous as He is righteous"? My thesis is that the answer is rooted in Ex 34:6-7, the "face" that YHWH showed Moses (cf. Ex 33) to assure him of his faithfulness to the people of God---and the same "face" that we should see "in the mirror" if we are "born of Him" (James 1:16-27).

    This mandate to "be a blessing" has never changed for the people of God since Abraham was first given the charge. The point of the rest of the book of James after the introductory thesis statements in chap. 1 is to flesh out what it looks like to do works that nobody in their right mind would ever do to try to be righteous as He is righteous. That's the whole point of the examples of Abraham and Rahab in James 2: Who would ever do the things that God asked of them in order to vindicate His righteousness before the Gentiles?

    What works? The impossible ones. Loving totally unlovable Christians, for example---people you would rather hate than love. Being "quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger," just like YHWH in Ex 34:6-7.

    My whole point in this post, Michele, is to indict whoever needs to be indicted of not looking like who they are. That's all James was doing. The FG movement will never make much of a dent until at the very least we can be "quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." And believe you me, we have some FG doozies "out there" [?"in here"] that make that an impossible task without the visible work of the Spirit "who yearns jealously" within us. And that's the point: During the greatest times of stress, it should be visible enough in our relationships with one another for others to see us vindicate His righteousness as the people of His name.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/01/2009 10:33 AM  

  • BTW, Michele,

    I've known Charlie Bing since 1978 when he was the youth minister at the Church where I was saved. He played a key role in ministering to my stepson, who was going through a very difficult time in the first couple years of my marriage to his mother.

    I will take a look and a listen to the links you provided.


    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/01/2009 10:37 AM  

  • Hi Michele

    Hi Jim

    busy now, but I can always spare a minute to say "Hi" :) :)

    By Blogger Rose~, at 7/01/2009 12:40 PM  

  • Jim you also wrote in this post on the issue of giving grace in disagreement and/or error:

    IMO, one all-too-evident problem within the FG movement at the present time is that we, of all people in the Body, are so stuck on “protecting” faith alone in Christ alone from any “contamination” by works (lest we “facilitate” incursions by errant Reformed and Lordship theologies) that we are shooting each other over “the right formula for salvation” rather than “provoking one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24).

    Dr. Bing also clearly sanctions giving grace and freedom toward error as well in his presentation.

    You may enjoy listening to his words on this, in minutes 35:00 - 48:00.

    Dr. Bing elicits tears and the room is caught up in what he shares.


    By Blogger Sanctification, at 7/01/2009 9:23 PM  

  • Thanks for the tip, Michele, I will do so.

    I heard minutes 29 to 33:30 as you suggested, and I agree with Charlie as far as he went, but this issue of looking at "faith and works" through the lenses of how we treat "family" has been sorely under-examined IMO.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/01/2009 9:42 PM  

  • Wow....

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/01/2009 10:08 PM  

  • Michele,
    I just listened to that. Awesome! I like Dr. Bing - never had heard him speak before. Thanks for the link.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 7/03/2009 2:03 PM  

  • Hello Rose:
    Causes me to remember that with freedom comes responsibility to behave worthy of the One who gives us of His Kingdom.

    Jude 1:4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

    The same God of Israel is now our God and His dealings with Israel is the best place to learn all about what He expects of us.

    You've certainly broken things down in a teachable way that James epistle agrees with Jim. Thanks for the thoughtful work here. Todd

    By Blogger Todd, at 7/03/2009 11:56 PM  

  • Hello Rose,

    I've never commented here until now but I do tune in every now and then. It is not surprising to me that you would re-post these words from Jim as you are someone who seems to live out what he's saying--a bright spot in the blogosphere. Kudos to you, sister.

    Jim, great post. Interesting how not very many have responded on either blog. Hopefully we're all just soaking it in. It has certainly challenged me to take a new look at James.

    What you are saying is so vital. The message needs to be proclaimed and practice through the FG movement.

    I do have one minor question: Are you sure the "we's" in 2Co 5:18b and 20 are inclusive?

    Thanks for the great post.

    By Blogger David Bell, at 7/07/2009 10:06 PM  

  • Hi Michele,

    Thanks for the link to Charlie Bing's message. I didn't know it was available online and it was great to here it again. I hadn't met him until the conference and I was very impressed.


    By Blogger David Bell, at 7/07/2009 10:11 PM  

  • How are you doing, Rose?

    David, thanks for your generous comments; you ask an excellent question about 2 Cor 5:18b and 20.

    There is no question in my mind that the preceding larger section of 2 Cor is dealing primarily with the apostles as a group, at least from the point of 3:1, where he distinguishes between "we" as the apostles as "ministers of the new covenant" (cf. e.g., 3:6) and "you" as the Corinthians who were in need of being reconciled with one another (cf. 2:7-11).

    Paul then clearly begins 2 Cor 5 with the primary referent of "we" still comprised of the suffering apostles, as exemplified by Paul---"ministers of the new covenant." However, there are certain key places in the larger context where Paul is inclusive, such as 3:18, 5:10, and 5:17 (the verse that initiates the passage that contains 5:18b and 5:20). IMO, when Paul speaks of all believers as facing the judgment seat of Christ to be judged (5:10) and follows that with "If anyone is in Christ..." he places those more inclusive key statements within a larger context of "we" as apostles who suffer gladly for the sake of the gospel precisely because all those who are in Christ and accountable to God before the judgment seat of Christ for "deeds done in the body" are also called to be "ministers of the new covenant" and therefore "ministers of reconciliation," with the quintessential example being displayed for them: the suffering apostles.

    So, when we get to 5:18b and 20, the "we" still has the apostles as its primary referent, but this is to encourage those at Corinth to live out their own identity in
    Christ (5:17) and also become the accountable ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors they were created in Christ to be (5:18b, 20)
    . Of note in this regard, there is no "you" in 5:20---the Greek simply says, "...we beg on Christ's behalf: 'Be reconciled to God.'" IOW, "that's what we do" as apostles [before the world]" and that's also what Corinthians should do. Why? "For He made Him who knew no sin [to] [be] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

    I therefore think Paul's use of the first person plural in the larger context is brilliant, because he models the very identity that we were all called as believers to exemplify for the sake of God's larger redemptive purposes in the world. The Corinthians had not gotten reconciliation right among themselves, much less in the world at large. They didn't know how to reconcile with one another, much less go out begging in the world, "Be reconciled to God."

    Is there not an analogy here with the FG movement?

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/08/2009 8:14 AM  

  • Good evening, Rose.

    And good evening, Jim. Thanks for taking the time to give such a thoughtful response. I think you've convinced me. :)

    By Blogger David Bell, at 7/08/2009 9:43 PM  

  • Excellent bro. Jim! Need some time to digest it all. None now, hopefully soon. God Bless & howdy Rose!

    By Blogger David Wyatt, at 7/09/2009 2:25 PM  

  • I think you've nailed it, Jim . . . good one!

    Hey, what's up Rose :-)?

    By Anonymous Bobby Grow, at 7/11/2009 1:34 AM  

  • Hey, Rose, look! It's the Bobster!! He's back!

    Good to see you, Buddy; I noticed you over at TF (the "big boys"?) and glad you're still keeping an eye on us.

    Thanks to David B., David W., and Bobby G. for engaging the post.

    Without naming names, who in the Body of Christ would you find (individually or collectively) the most difficult to love and/or be reconciled with?

    ---Dr. Tiller (assuming he was an actual believer), who aborted an estimated 60,000 babies before he was recently gunned down?

    ---An obnoxious "dyed-in-the-wool" 5-point Calvinist or LS-er, who regularly leads people to question their salvation because they don't have "enough" or the "right" works and therefore might not be "elect"?

    ---Free Grace separationists---those teach "grace" but "stand on truth" and refuse [at least in theory] to have anything to do with others who aren't "doctrinally pristine" [to use Michele's terminology]?

    ---Pretentious theologians who spend their entire careers as academics developing theological systems, sometimes by manhandling the Word to make their point, but wouldn't know how to "love" others if their lives depended on it? ...or actually seem to love others quite well, even though they are blatant heretics?

    ---A retired physician who now thinks he's a theologian and uses his "status" in the community to push his "pop psychology" and other heretical views on the impressionable? ;-)

    Can you think of others in the Body of Christ who personally are hard to love? If Jesus told you to be reconciled to them (especially the one[s] you find most difficult to love), and you were actually listening to Jesus, how would you approach these "unloveables" with a view to reconciliation? Of all that you now hold dear, what would you have to sacrifice most in order to love them well?

    What's ultimately at stake? ...individually? ...corporately?

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/11/2009 7:50 AM  

  • Rose, you certainly do have your share of interesting visitors. :-)

    Michael, I obviously don't know you, but you appear to be well-informed on Catholic dogma and loyal to the magisterium. I appreciate it when Roman Catholics raise important theological questions that arise from "difficult" texts in Scripture...questions that some Protestants are all too loathe to tackle honestly because of the sticky challenges they may pose to the particular traditions they hold dear.

    Yet again, just as on Sanc's blog, I'm not sure how to respond to your comments, though for different reasons in this case. Here, you are certainly "on topic" with your opening thesis (which I find attractive), but then I quickly lose you when you don't really support your thesis.

    For example, while I appreciate your proposal to define "grace," "faith," and "works"---indeed, these terms are used in many different ways---you then provide us with only a definition of grace and not of faith or works.

    Another example comes from your intriguing comment on your profile:
    I was saved, I am saved & I am being saved. Yes, but only God knows who they are.
    While this seems to indicate an appropriate recognition of the multifaceted nature of God's salvation, this is not really reflected in your comments. Moreover, you relate "salvation" to grace, but not to faith or works.

    That is, other than offering your list of verses without commenting on them individually, you say:

    If we have sanctifying grace indwelling our soul when we die, then we go to Heaven.

    Grace is a free gift from GOD, and a sufficient amount is given to each and every one of us for our salvation.

    Without it, we can do nothing at all. We cannot 'save' ourselves without the help of GOD.

    It's hard to find much in these comments to argue with as far as they go. Yet it is not clear how you see the various facets of salvation "work" out of our faith, which was the question posed on the thread and indeed the primary issue addressed in the book of James. So, I am intrigued by your opening gambit but still unsure of what you hoped thereby to accomplish in quoting the verses without relating them to your comments or defining "faith" or "works."

    With approximately 10,000 hits on your blogger profile in just a little over 2 years, you have obviously made your presence widely known on the Internet. Should we take this to mean that we are just a minor "pit stop" for you, or do you seriously want to engage?

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/13/2009 12:22 AM  

  • Michael,

    It seems to me you are just cutting-and-pasting from your own blog and not really interested in engaging the points I raised in the post above.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/13/2009 11:14 PM  

  • Greetings, Rose and Jim.

    Jim, I agree that failure to apply James will contribute to FG being marginalized from the larger body of Christ. I think I disagree with your timetable, however. The marginalization of FG not something that will happen; it's something that happened in the eighties (at least if we're talking about contemporary mainstream evangelicalism in North America). Or so it seems to me.

    I don't mean that you can't find mainstream evangelicals with FG conclusions; I mean that to be known as an FG guy puts you firmly and finally out of the mainstream in a way that being known as, say, a Reformed guy does not. It's like being known as a dispensationalist, only much more so.

    Personally, I'm so far outside the mainstream on so many issues that one more brick on the load hardly matters. But I'm curious about your point of view here. Am I missing something? Do we (as FG people) still have a shot at getting our message into the mainstream consciousness?


    By Anonymous Tim Nichols, at 7/14/2009 1:13 PM  

  • Welcome, Tim,

    You ask an excellent question. I agree with your comment about the timetable and understand exactly what you mean. I guess my current thinking is that FG in its present form will have to undergo profound deconstruction before it truly can make an impact in mainstream evangelicalism. However, the foundational concepts of FG are so central to the entire metanarrative of Scripture, that we already see glimpses of these concepts in the writings of people from widely divergent theological traditions.

    A case in point would be Kaiser's recent rewrite of his biblical theology of the Old and New Testaments entitled The Promise-Plan of God (and I am deeply grateful to Gary Edmondson for turning me onto this book and providing me his copy). Kaiser would hardly be termed a dispensationalist or a "friend" of the FG movement, yet he is IMO closer to the foundational tenets of progressive dispensationalism and FG with his "promise theology" than some of the more overt proponents from either of these theological "camps."

    Yet, when Kaiser gets to the book of James he seems to me to depart so abruptly from his [at least implicit] "promise-only" approach (in order to justify his uninspiring Reformed view of James 2:14-26) that the dichotomy is frankly jarring.

    Another example is Russell Moore's The Kingdom of Christ (2005), which seemed promising in this regard---the potential for a growing convergence between dispensational thinking and covenant theology (with potential implications for FG); however, it seems to be diverging again now, four short years later.

    I have no idea at this point where or how FG will emerge from the current controversies, but I see all of mainstream evangelicalism in such a gigantic turmoil of transition that there may well be a few who are [as you say] "so far out of the current mainstream" they may end up actually being in an ideal position to "reconstruct" after the deconstruction. All we need IMO is "eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches" as we navigate the forseeable future.

    By Blogger agent4him, at 7/14/2009 2:33 PM  

  • Michael,

    All the folks around here have gone off to serve the Lord. That's our commission. After all, we are all commissioned to be priests. There is no mention in the Bible of any pope or even such an office. And even our friend Peter was subject to scripture, rather than the other way around.

    In spite of eveything, I'm sure there are even quite a few faithful people left in what originally was the church of Rome. But that commission was eventually mishandled and instead the church that later called itself the Catholic church became a political/economic entity while the faithful commission of taking the gospel to the rest of the world was very ably carried forth by the larger Body of Christ.

    With a little 'reforming' of your own personal beliefs I'll bet you could be a very able participant.

    The Lord has made our joy full with the knowledge of Him through His Word and we are now His servants and we must be going about His business.

    Thanks. Todd

    By Blogger Todd, at 7/18/2009 10:06 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Michael, at 7/19/2009 8:21 AM  

  • Got the Lord's work to do Michael. He's given me the gift of the Holy Ghost and yoked Himself together with me for His service and there's no turning back. May the Lord use and bless you and your Pope in an equally glorious and magnificent way.


    By Blogger Todd, at 7/19/2009 6:49 PM  

  • I have been away on vacation and off the computer for the most part for nearly three weeks. I'm back.

    By Blogger Rose~, at 7/22/2009 9:15 AM  

  • Here's the thing, Michael and "Anonymous":

    This blog post has nothing to do with your Catholic views and I don't want to read any more comments on this off-topic topic.


    By Blogger Rose~, at 7/22/2009 9:56 AM  

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