From: Kingdom Concepts

Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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The Scripture presents two separate viewpoints of righteousness. Paul stresses we are justified by our faith in Christ. James emphasizes that we attain salvation and justification by means of righteous works. The believer who embraces the Lord, sharing each day in the death and triumphant resurrection of Christ, reveals in himself or herself both the faith and the righteous works that go together to form the true salvation that God has given us in Christ our Lord.

Faith and godly behavior operate together in the new covenant concept of fruit—the fruit of the new creation. The God of Heaven requires the fruit of godly behavior as part of salvation by faith. The healthy, growing Christian will bear the fruit of Christ-likeness in his personality. If over a period of time there is no change in the personality, then something has gone wrong. Spiritual sickness is present. Spiritual death will occur unless steps are taken to correct the deficiencies.

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“knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

One of the fundamental teachings of the Apostle Paul is that a person is justified by faith in Christ, not by the works of the Law of Moses.

What does it mean to be justified?

To be justified means to be declared righteous by the Lord. Therefore in this discussion we will not refer again to the term justified, but for the sake of ease of understanding by the reader we will speak only of righteousness. What does the Scripture say about our becoming righteous?

To become righteous means nothing less and nothing more than to gain acceptance in the sight of God. If what we are and what we are doing at any given moment is pleasing to God and acceptable to God, then we have attained righteousness (right standing) in the Presence of God.

We are including here the right standing that we gain by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and also the righteous personality and conduct that result from our putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provision for our fleshly lusts (Romans 13:14).

Indeed, righteousness is a primary subject of the Scriptures. Righteousness is the state of being in which we are pleasing to God, in which He receives us and blesses us, in which we have fellowship with Him.

Deep in the heart of each saint there is a hunger for righteousness. Because of the pressures, the dreads, the problems and concerns of life on the earth we begin to desire to die and go to Heaven. To die and go to Heaven is a wonderful release toward which we can look with joyful anticipation.

But to die and go to Heaven is not the deepest desire of the saint. The deepest desire of the Christian is to be righteous, to gain full acceptance in the sight of God and to possess God. That is the goal of every genuine believer in God.

How do we enter the righteousness of the Kingdom of God? What are we to do in order that our righteousness may exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees? (Matthew 5:20).

When we turn to the New Testament writings we discover what appears to be two separate viewpoints of righteousness. Paul, in certain parts of his epistles, seems to stress we are made righteous by our faith in Christ apart from any effort on our part. James, in his epistle, appears to emphasize attaining righteousness by means of righteous works.

Notice carefully Paul’s statement:

“knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

And then James’ assertion:

You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:24)

Paul, in some of his writings, emphasizes faith as the means by which we are received of God. James, also an apostle, also inspired by the Spirit of God, emphasizes works as the means by which we are received by the Lord.

The difference in emphasis shown here is one of several seeming conflicts in the Scriptures. Predestination and human choice is another seeming conflict. The unstable select one emphasis and reject the other. The saint accepts both viewpoints as being true and trusts God for the resolution; for he understands that the Scriptures are true in every part and cannot be changed in any manner.

There are no contradictions in God’s Word, only limitations on our understanding because of our lack of experience in God.

Both Paul and James, who possibly may be revealing here some arguments that took place among the early followers of Christ, based their doctrine on God’s dealings with the patriarch, Abraham. Let us go back to Abraham and discover why Paul could find a basis for preaching faith as the way to gain righteousness, while James could find a basis for preaching works as the way to gain God’s approval on one’s life.

Paul found great significance in Chapter 15 of Genesis. God directed the childless Abraham to consider the number of stars in the sky, and then promised Abraham that his children would be as many in number as the stars.

Abraham believed exactly what God had promised and no doubt began to rejoice exceedingly, giving thanks to God and praising Him for all of these descendants.

And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is not recorded that Abraham did anything to earn such a fabulous inheritance, although it is true he had been faithful to God to this point. God gave this marvelous promise to him. Abraham accepted it with thanksgiving and rejoicing although he and Sarah already were old.

Abraham’s ready acceptance of the promised inheritance was regarded by the Lord as an act of righteousness. God was well pleased with Abraham’s response of faith. The immediate, unqualified faith in God’s Word that Abraham demonstrated gained for him the favor and blessing of almighty God.

Paul’s doctrine of righteousness by faith is derived from Genesis 15:6. Beginning in Paul’s day, the important and scriptural doctrine of righteousness by faith has, in numerous instances, been turned into immorality. It has become an excuse for lawlessness because its necessary and scriptural balance, righteous, holy, and obedient behavior, has been neglected or even discarded as not being an essential aspect of salvation by grace through faith.

We must not forget that Abraham was a righteous, holy, obedient servant of God.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1)

“Walk before me and be blameless.” Was God speaking here of Abraham continuing in the belief he would have a seed? Is this what the Lord meant by “be blameless”? Probably not.

God was exhorting Abraham to walk in the land as an upright man, not beating his servants, not lying, not cheating his neighbors, not bearing false witness, not committing adultery. Abraham was commanded to add to his faith the virtue of godly character and living. And so are we. Godly character and behavior are necessary if we are to continue in fellowship with the Lord.

God comes to each Christian, after he or she has been a believer for a while, and points toward the need for upright, conscientious behavior in the Presence of the Lord.

If we are to use an action of Abraham as our model for receiving Christ by faith, then we are also to use the life of Abraham as our model for behavior after we become a Christian.

James, in his emphasis on works as a means of obtaining favor with God, stressed that Abraham was a sternly obedient servant of God. Let us look more deeply into Abraham’s behavior. Let us employ the incident to which James was referring.

God came to the believing, perfect Abraham and tested him concerning his willingness to obey God under very difficult circumstances.

Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)

This truly was a Gethsemane experience. We too, as Christians, are brought from time to time into difficult tests of faith and obedience. This also is part of our Christian walk in addition to receiving the Gospel of Christ by faith.

We all may know the story of God’s command to Abraham to offer up the heir of promise. This incident points out that faith reveals itself in our actions. Whether or not we truly possess victorious faith is demonstrated as the Holy Spirit brings us into arenas of extremely difficult decisions.

Consider God’s response as Abraham lifted the sacrificial knife:

And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Genesis 22:12)

What shall we say about Genesis 22:12: “now I know that you fear God”? Faith in God, which is inseparably connected with the wholesome fear of God, is revealed in what we do. Who can know whether he truly possesses faith in God? Because we state that we do? The fires of testing and tribulation reveal the actual condition of our faith.

If we love Christ and believe in Him we will do what He says. We will keep His word. We will feed His lambs and His sheep. We can say we love Christ, that we believe in Him. But it is our actions that give final proof.

Did the rich young ruler believe in Christ? Did he love Christ? He thought he did until Jesus told him to turn over his vast possessions to the poor. No, he did not truly believe in Christ. He did not truly love Christ. Faith and love are revealed by our actions, not by our words alone.

Faith apart from works is dead. No person can be saved by a dead faith.

Today we have in Christianity what might be termed a “ticket to Heaven” doctrine. The ticket doctrine is based on Paul’s teaching that we are saved by faith and not by works.

One of the sources of the confusion here is that Paul was speaking of the works of the Law of Moses, not of righteous and holy conduct. But let us leave that for now.

The ticket to Heaven doctrine teaches that if any person will make a profession of Christ (and this apart from sincere, thorough repentance!) he will go to Heaven when he dies. We go to Heaven by “faith” and not by works, it is claimed. All that is required of the believer is that he does not renounce this profession. In some extreme instances the ticket doctrine adds that once the profession is made there is nothing that the holder of the ticket can do that would deny him entrance into Paradise.

Many people are genuinely converted to Christ under the ticket doctrine, including its extreme form, and develop into truly fine saints. They receive strong assurance from the doctrine of righteousness by faith and this assurance enables them to emerge as victorious saints.

However there are multitudes of professing Christians whom we cannot regard with such confidence. They are living according to the appetites and lusts of their soul and flesh, disobeying God, and believing they hold a ticket that guarantees their entrance into the full blessings of the Kingdom of God, a ticket that cannot be made void by wicked conduct.

Let us see what Peter says to those who have made a profession of Christ but who are continuing in the ways of the world:

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. (II Peter 2:20,21)

“The way of righteousness”! “Turn from the holy commandment”! “Escaped the pollutions of the world”! These statements sound more like a way of living than they do like holding a ticket.

It appears from the above passage that Peter leans more toward James’ doctrine of righteousness by works than he does toward righteousness based solely on a profession of belief. This is true also of Jude, Hebrews, Revelation, the First Epistle of John, and a number of passages from Paul’s writings.

The bulk of the writings of the New Testament, including the four Gospels, have more to say about righteous living than they do about pleasing God through belief. We are using the term belief in our discussion here rather than faith because there is a difference between belief, as the word often is used, and the faith that is a transforming grasp on God and His Word.

In some instances belief is nothing more than a mental assent to spiritual facts. We may believe that Christ is the Lord and Savior of the world. The devils themselves are aware of this fact. Yet their “faith” does not save them.

True faith is a grasp on God such that what we read in the Scriptures begins to change what we are, what we do, what we perceive, what we know, what we say.

Theological belief and knowledge will not save us. It is our personal, living faith in Christ that brings forth a new creation in our personality. The Christian salvation is, more than anything else, a new creation is us.

Consider what Peter is saying here. His words indeed are a serious challenge to much of what is considered to be Christianity in the twentieth century.

“Escaped the pollutions of the world.” “Again entangled therein, and overcome.” In no way could these expressions refer to belief only. They are speaking of leaving the behaviors of the world. Peter is stern enough to claim that if the “believer” lives as a worldly person he will end up in a worse condition than was true of him before he professed Christianity.

Notice also, “the way of righteousness”; and, “turn from the holy commandment.”

The way of righteousness. There is a way of pleasing God. That way of righteousness is the way of holy living, the way of separation from the world. There is a “holy commandment” that the Christian must obey.

To be righteous is to be received of God. It is obvious from the New Testament Scriptures that being received of God includes more than a profession of belief in Christ.

Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” (II Corinthians 6:17)

We see, then, that righteousness, the state of being received and approved by the Lord, includes both faith in God’s promises and also a change in our behavior until we actually are practicing the actions that are pleasing to God.

We cannot emphasize faith and reject the need for godly behavior. We cannot emphasize godly behavior and reject the need for faith. If we select one and reject the other we will make shipwreck of the Christian discipleship.

We cannot earn righteousness by any set of good works, whether of the Law of Moses or of any other religious observance or moral code. The Gospel of Christ is a Divine promise, freely given; and we are approved of God (righteous) when we receive the promise with thanksgiving.

We are not approved of God when we attempt to earn what God is offering to us as a gift (Romans 5:15-17; Ephesians 2:8,9).

It is important to understand that we cannot remain in God’s favor by accepting Christ and then living as any other worldly person. Such an approach to salvation is far removed from the teaching of the Lord Jesus and of His Apostles (Romans 8:13; Hebrews 3:11-14).

If we cannot earn the inheritance by righteous works, and yet are required as a part of New Testament righteousness to grow each day in godly character and behavior, how, then, do these two aspects of righteousness fit together?

Faith and godly behavior fit together in the new covenant concept of fruit—the fruit of the new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (II Corinthians 5:17)

If a person truly receives by faith Christ as his Lord and Savior, a new creation will be seen in his personality. The new creation is Christ in him. The new creation does the will of God by nature because it is born of God (I John 3:9; 5:4).

If—and this is important to understand!—over a period of years there is no transformation of the personality, then that individual is not in Christ. His faith is dead. He does not possess saving faith.

The God of Heaven requires the fruit of godly behavior as a part of salvation by faith. In fact it is the godly behavior that is the proof of salvation and is the salvation.

For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God;
but if it bears thorns and briars [neglectful Christians], it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:7,8)
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2)

The two passages quoted above give us insight into the seriousness with which God views the bringing forth of Christ’s righteous Nature in the saints.

The healthy, growing Christian will bear the fruit of Christ-likeness in his personality. If over a period of time there is no change in the personality, no growth in righteous behavior, then something has gone wrong. Spiritual sickness is present. Spiritual death will occur unless steps are taken to correct the deficiencies.

What is the fruit of the Christian life? What is the evidence that Christ is abiding in us and we in Him?

The fruit is the moral image of Christ revealed in our personality (Romans 8:29). The fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, generosity, goodwill, faithfulness, teachableness, self-control, humility, the fear of God, brotherly kindness (Galatians 5:22,23; II Peter 1:5-8).

We accept Christ by faith, receiving forgiveness of our sins and right standing in God’s Presence.

Then we build on that framework of right standing by walking in Christ, loving Christ, praying, reading the Word, obeying God, assembling regularly with fervent brothers and sisters, giving of our money, forgiving others when they hurt us, and practicing all the other Christian behaviors. We do not earn righteousness by such behaviors but we do exhibit the Life of Christ in us.

God’s righteousness is the Life of Christ in us.

What if there is no evidence of the Life of Christ in us? If there is no evidence of such fruit then we are not abiding in Christ. Our faith is not taking hold on God as it should. Our “faith” may be little more than a mental assent to the facts concerning Christ and redemption.

Righteousness is that which pleases God. Part of new-covenant righteousness is faith in the Gospel of Christ. An equally important part of new-covenant righteousness is the change into holy behavior that results from the forming of Christ in us (Galatians 4:19).

If our faith is of the right kind, a change into Christ’s moral image will take place. Faith will bring about the desired results. The Seed of Christ will grow in us if we keep it in a healthful environment (Luke 8:15).

Paul, writing to the saints in Galatia, climaxes his explanation of the true Christian salvation by stating:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The believer who embraces the Lord, sharing each day in the death and triumphant resurrection of Christ, reveals in himself or herself both the faith and the fruit that go together to form the true salvation that God has given to us in Christ our Lord.

But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; (II Peter 3:10-14)

(“Faith and Fruit”, 3649-1)

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