"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."
I want to suggest a dangerous thought about biblical interpretation and see how it plays. For years (and I don't really know how many... could be all the way back to the Reformation) we have been taught to accept that everything in the Bible is "true." When we say it that way most of us assume that means that everything found in the Scriptures is somehow the way God wanted it. But let's examine that for a second.
Assuming that all of the events recorded in the Bible actually happened as reported, and I have no reason to assume otherwise, with the possible exception that Job may be allegorical and not historical, that takes care of one meaning of the word "true." It is therefore true that Jacob had two wives and two other lovers who bore him a total of 12 sons (and probably as many daughters, we'll never know). But does/did God approve that kind of behavior? It is also true that there was a very strict code in Old Testament law about not eating shrimp or pork. Am I disobeying God when I enjoy those foods? This level of "true" is things that are placed, as the writer of Hebrews says, "for our instruction," though not for our obedience.
There's a third batch of things that are "true," and the present verse is, I believe, an example of just such a thing. If we miss the understanding of how to read these things it will seriously mess up our faith. It is true that James wrote "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." But that doesn't make the doctrine of justification by faith alone hogwash. Ask the question: Is the statement something to itself build a doctrine on? Do we Christians generally accept sola fide as a tenant of our faith? Yes. But we also generally act as if the exact opposite was true. Why? Because somewhere deep inside we know that it would be as great a sham for us to declare faith in Christ and not live it out as if two people "married" and never ever had sex, or if someone bought a car but just left it in the driveway and walked even though they had the car right there. Though I'll admit that with gasoline prices where they are that is tempting, but isn't all that practical.
I am compelled to say that, while true, I can't build a sound doctrine off of either this verse OR a verse like Titus 3:5 "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." I have to balance the two -- even search the Scriptures for other verses that add depth to the doctrine. Only then will I be on firm ground.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.