Friday, March 1, 2013

Obedience, Faith, and [Good] Works

Given that God commands men to repent and believe (e.g. Mark 1:15), I've had a somewhat frustrating time understanding in what sense faith is not a good work. Doesn't faith "in the gospel" require mental activity and an act of will, viz. in understanding and assenting to certain propositions? And isn't obedience synonymous with good works (cf. Romans 1:6, 16:26)? Didn't Paul and Silas tell the Philippian jailer he had something to "do" in order to be saved (Acts 16:31-32)? 

I'm not sure why I made this question out to be more difficult than it really is, but in any case, I was struck with a sudden and obvious thought the other day. Faith is what consummates union with Christ, and it is Christ's work which merits for those united to Him a crown of righteousness or [eternal] life. Faith is obedience to a command, but it is not on account of this obedience that we merit anything (link). Works, on the other hand, are the grounds upon which merit is accrued to an individual - even good works (link). But no one can merit eternal life for Himself apart from perfect obedience to the law. We can merit other things: death by our sin (Romans 6:23), wages by our labor (Romans 4:4), rewards (25:14-30), but faith has always been held by Reformed Christians to be the instrumental, not meritorious, cause of justification. So obedience would seem to be a genus of which faith and good works are species.

10 comments:

Max said...

Faith is a good work in one sense, and not a "work" in another. Paul in Romans 4 implies that works give something to God, while faith receives a gift from God. He says God counted Abraham's faith as righteousness, which I take to mean that God not only likes men's obedience to him, but also men's praise for His gifts. The point is, the Pharisees were emphasizing good works to God, but Paul says that what men receive from God is more important.

A Jewish translation of Genesis 15:6 says, "and he believed in the LORD, and He reckoned it to his merit." This makes better sense, and I think is confirmed by Psalm 106:31 about Phinehas' action in Numbers 25. With the same Hebrew words, it's said "And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore."

Of course, it also means that Abraham received Christ's righteousness. But I still believe that, if a person doesn't have faith, "whatsoever is not of faith is sin." (Rom 14:23). Phinehas must have had faith. That's my 2 cents. You are the least boring blogger ever!

Ryan said...

God is pleased with our faith, but it not on account of our faith that we merit righteousness. For we don't merit righteousness at all. Christ does, and it is in virtue of our union with Him - through faith - that we have access to the ground upon which God can declare us righteous.

Patrick McWilliams said...

I think Gill has it right. Faith is not in any way a cause of justification - even instrumental. It is the means whereby we access Christ and experience our justification.

Ryan said...

Romans 8:9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Life is predicated on union with Christ. If we are eternally justified, then we would be eternally united to Christ, and this is clearly not the case (Romans 6:3-8).

Patrick McWilliams said...

You're mixing eternal and temporal categories. The temporal is based on the eternal. Justification is a declaration of God that happens outside of us. God does not change his eternal mind, although we experience regeneration & our justification at a point in our temporal life.

Ryan said...

Is or isn't justification predicated on union with Christ, and are or aren't we eternally united to Christ?

Patrick McWilliams said...

Your questions indicate you're still not distinguishing between the eternal and temporal aspects of all things. In order for me to answer your question, define union with Christ.

Ryan said...

Conformity to His image. Is there any other Scriptural definition?

Patrick McWilliams said...

Then no, my justification does not depend on my being conformed to Christ's image. Quite the opposite.

Ryan said...

Where do you find "experience" in Romans? Paul talks about mean being under the wrath of God and the curse of the law until and unless they come to faith. I see no mention of "experiencing justification" we allegedly already have.