Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jesus, James & Paul talk about justification

Luke 18:13-14 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14“I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

James 2:24 "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone."

Romans 3:28  "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."

Paul, Jesus and James at the table talking about justification
Today's blog is about understanding the doctrine of justification as taught by Jesus, James and Paul.  Picture if you will all three of them sitting at the table, having a discussion about this very important doctrine that occupies the center of the Gospel.  Would we find Paul and James getting angry and pointing fingers, with Jesus having to split them up and put them in seperate rooms until the cooled off? Some commentators would say yes, since Paul in the above passage says justification is by faith alone and James seems to teach the opposite.  Let me offer a different suggestion: I believe there would be absolute agreement - and here is why.

Jesus begins the conversation about justification
I could see Jesus begin the conversation by saying: "brethren, do you recall what I taught back in Luke 18?" At this point I could see both Paul and James nodding their heads in agreement.   Jesus continues on in our hypothetical discussion: "as you read those verses, the context is a parable about a religious man and a very sinful man.  The religious man is self righteous, whereas the sinner freely admits he is unrighteous, unworthy of God's grace and yet pleading for God's mercy.  As you both know, the outcome is that the sinner gets up from his prayer a forgiven man, justified before God's sight through faith alone.  Now to prove that this man possessed genuine faith in the God who alone can save, I noted the man's humility and repentant heart.  Why? Because the only way people can tell genuine faith from false faith is by a person's attitudes and deeds.  So James and Paul, tell me what you understand from my teaching on justification? 

James is the first to respond in this hypothetical conversation about justification
In our imaginary conversation we could imagine James responding: "Well my Lord, I know that what you taught was true and consistent, since I grew up in the same home as you, saw your miracles and by your grace as my Lord and God believed upon you.1  From what I can tell, the only way we can tell that the sinner possessed true justifying, saving faith was by the fact he was humble, loathing his sin and walked humbly before God following His prayer.  As you know very well, My LORD, I wrote about this by the direction of your Spirit in my little letter entitled "James".  I wrote that "faith without works is dead".  My point was to show how justification looked and functioned in the sight of men, and that profession of You with one's lips means nothing."  As Jesus listens, he responds: "You have spoken correctly James".  Jesus then turns to the Apostle Paul, who smiles and gives his response in our hypotehtical round-table discussion.

What Paul says about justification in our hypothetical round table discussion about justification
Paul says: "My Lord and Savior, the day you called me, knocking me off my horse, and showing me my fallen condition, frankly I was a lot like that religious man in your parable.  I was self-righteous, a Pharisee of Pharisees.  I am so glad when you called me by grace and I believed on you, you forgave me for persecuting you through how I formerly treated your people.  As I rejoiced to hear you tell that story as Luke, my best friend wrote under the Spirit's inspiration, I realized that the reason that man was justified and declared forgiven by God was due to His simply faith and trust.  God alone knows the heart, and He knows and has deemed faith to be necessary and sufficient to save a person from His wrath.  My whole point, as you well know, is expressed in Romans 3-4 and my little letter to the Galatians.  I wanted to communicate how it is a man is made right in God's sight. Furthermore, I agree completely with what my brother James wrote about in his letter - that the only way we as human beings can know as much as possible another person's genuine faith is by their attitudes.  In fact, I wrote in my letter of Romans 12-16 the attitudes and lifestyle that should arise from a life transformed by the Gospel."

As Paul finishes, James raises his hand to speak, at which point Jesus nods: "My Lord and my God, I agree as well with my brother Paul, since I wrote to about how Genuine saving faith comes from the Father by His word. (James 1:18) Even though what I wrote was meant to emphasize Living working faith lived out in the sight of men, I recognize with my brother that the only way God will receive a person and justify them in His sight is by faith alone."

Jesus offers the final remarks in our hypothetical roundtable discussion about justification
As Jesus listened to Paul and James' additional remarks, He in His full Divine glory nodded His head in agreement.  We can picture Jesus pointing out that what James said and wrote, and what Paul said and write, were not in contradiction, but in full agreement - viewing justification respectively from man's point of view and God's point of view.  Jesus would most likely point out that James and Paul both caught the two things He taught about justification in His parable.  Certainly that sinful man was proven in man's sight to be truly saved or justified by virtue of the fact He walked humbly and in dependence upon God.  Likewise, before God, the man was justified by faith alone, and did not have to perform works or earn favor for salvation, contrasting the religious Pharisee in the parable. 

I hope you found today's blog to be insightful, since God's Word does not contradict itself.  If anything, we always need to read scripture in light of other scripture.  Can we know 100% for sure if another man possesses true genuine faith? No.  But God has prescribed good works as the test that helps us approximate as close as possible what defines true faith from false faith.  Likewise, what is the only way God will justify or credit a sinner with Christ's righteousness? It cannot be by works, since we are now no longer referring to the realm of human judgment.  God has ordained that only by grace alone through faith alone can man be saved.  We are saved grace through faith alone, and our walk from thereon is characterized by a faith that is never alone apart from works. 

End Notes
1 James and Jesus were half-brothers according to the flesh. (Matthew 13:5)  James would by grace through faith believe on Jesus as Savior, Lord and God in human flesh following Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to him as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:7.  We see James gathered with the 120 believers in the upperoom in jerusalem prior to the Holy Spirit's coming on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 1:14)

No comments:

Post a Comment