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Justified–Confusion: By Faith or by Works?

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Written by BGU

By Ed Dudek

As mentioned in previous blogs, Abraham believed God and His promises, and God credited Abraham’s faith to him for righteousness. We could say that his faith was “put into his account and credited to him” for that righteousness. It’s clear that Abraham wasn’t justified–pronounced righteous—by any works of obedience that he may have done. In other words, his right standing with God wasn’t the result of obeying any law or doing any good work, but rather through his faith in the One who promised. *Rom.4:2-3*

I think about the wages that a laborer earns. They’re not regarded as a favor or credited to him or her according to some grace; the wages are paid as a debt to what is owed him, not as a gift. So if someone without any work to his credit simply believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, God can credit his or her faith for righteousness. God can correctly administer legal justice, and justify an ungodly person who puts their faith in Jesus—declaring and treating him or her as righteous—on the ground of Christ’s finished work on the Cross. We discussed this in our last blog. *Rom.4:4-5; 5:9*

Here’s an important question: Was it before or after Abraham was circumcised that God credited his faith for righteousness? It was before. Is that significant? Well, that outward mark of circumcision was a seal that attested to the righteousness which Abraham had by means of his faith while he was still uncircumcised so that he might become the father of all of us who believe. God credits our faith for the same righteousness that Abraham had. Incredible! *Rom.4:9-11,17-25*

God does not regard faith or estimate it as if it were righteousness. Faith is the means of securing it when God pardons us from the charge of sin and treats us as legally righteous on the ground of Christ’s finished work on Calvary. Our faith earns us no merit or favor with God. We are only justified because of the merits of Christ’s work on the Cross.

But true saving faith is also a living and active faith that produces works. A justified believer demonstrates his genuine faith by action. This is the “bottom line” of James’ teaching in his epistle. Faith by itself, if it does not have works accompanying it, is dead and useless since it doesn’t produce anything. “If you’re saved and you know it, then your life will surely show it.” The apostle Paul would heartily agree (Rom.2:13). Genuine faith produces genuine works. * Ja.2:17*

Abraham had genuine faith that affected his conduct. We already know that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Rom.4:3). Thirty years later that statement was still shown to be true. Abraham’s faith was “brought to completion,” we could say, by having offered up his son, Isaac on the altar. Abrahams’s faith was working together with his works, and from his works, his faith reached its intended goal. Such faith is bound to manifest itself. Abraham was shown to be legally righteous by his works. So it’s by faith co-working with works that a man or woman is “justified,” and not from faith alone. In other words, faith that saves is a faith that will afterwards produce good works. *Ja.2:20-25*
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