Last month, I reported that Bible First was being promoted at Expolit (a conference for Christian Spanish literature). Unfortunately, the Spanish samples of Bible First got lost in transit, the whole thing never even got off the ground. :(
On the bright side of things, there is a gentleman in Alabama that is using Bible First materials in his ministry in a prison there, and he recently forwarded a couple of encouraging testimonies from the inmates that he works with, one of which is below:
I’m 37 years old and the Bible First changed my life forever. For someone who knew nothing of the Bible, Bible First got me hooked on the Bible. I would love it and be one of the first to get it if there was a follow up on the rest of the books in the Bible. I recommend the Bible First to my friends and anyone I hear wanting to know more about the Bible.
On our end of things, we are still using Bible First here in Ukraine to reach Ukrainians. Of the people on our team, Denise is the one that is primarily responsible for the day-to-day management of Bible first: receiving mail, grading lessons, mailing new lessons, writing letters, etc. However, Denise will be leaving for a two-month trip to the States in mid-November. We are hoping to find someone (probably from our church) to take over her responsibilities while she is gone.
I recently received a letter from one of our old students, Alexander (who finished Bible First a while ago, but still writes to me from time to time). He asked several questions, one of which was as follows:
How can a person receive salvation without works? In James we read that faith without works is dead? (James 2:20, 26)
My response to his question is a bit lengthy, so I’ll paste it at the end of this update if you’d like to read it.
Ukraine is infamous for the amount of red tape and bureaucracy involved in getting simple tasks done. Unfortunately, it would seem that America is just as bad, if not worse (at least in the shipping department). After nearly a month of wrangling and headache, the Beals finally got the container of their belongings yesterday. Thanks to everyone who prayed!
Still nothing to report on the search for a new apartment. We broadened our search criteria, but it hasn’t made a different yet. Our realtor has assured us that it’s just a matter of time before something pops up, so for now, we are sitting tight.
Our girls are growing up fast! Be sure to check out our pictures from last month.
Last, but not least, here is my answer to Alexander’s question:
To answer this question, let’s remember one story from the Old Testament, and then read Romans 4.
Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Abraham was at least 75 years old at this time, his wife was 10 years younger, and all their lives, they had not been able to have children. Nonetheless, God came to Abraham, told him that he would have a son, and Abraham believed that God would do what He said. God saw Abraham’s faith, and gifted him righteousness.
Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
Notice that Paul is speaking to Jews, because he says, “Abraham our father.”
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
If Abraham had lived his entire life without ever sinning, only doing what was right (like Jesus did), then he would have been justified by works, and would have had done something to be proud of. (Before God, he would not have been able to glory in his accomplishment, because he would have only done the bare minimum that God requires.)
Romans 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
But Abraham was not justified by works, he was justified by faith.
Romans 4:4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
When a person works a job, his salary is not a gift from his employer, his employer owes him that salary.
Romans 4:5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
When a person decides to stop trying to earn his “salary,” and instead believes on God, then God counts that faith as righteousness (just like He did with Abraham). In other words, what are the conditions for receiving righteousness? Not working (to earn it), and believing God.
Romans 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
Romans 4:7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Romans 4:8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
This is a quote from Psalm 32. There are two ways to salvation. Either you save yourself (by living a perfect life without sin), or you let God save you (on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross). David believed that it was infinitely better to let God take care of things.
Romans 4:9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.
Remember verse one, that Paul is speaking to Jews here. So is the opportunity to be saved by faith open to all, or only to Jews through circumcision?
Romans 4:10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision.
Paul answers his own question with another question. The answer: Abraham received righteousness by faith before he was circumcised, therefore, circumcision is not a prerequisite.
Romans 4:11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
Circumcision was only a sign of what had already happened, just like wearing a wedding ring doesn’t make a person married, it is only a sign of something that has already happened.
Saying that Abraham is the father of all that believe is like saying that Wilbur and Orville Wright are the fathers of all pilots. They were the first ones to fly an airplane, and all others that have done so are following their example.
Romans 4:12 And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.
God opened a door to Abraham that is open to all, not just to Jews.
Romans 4:13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Paul here adds two new elements to the discussion, the Law of Moses, and one of the promises God made to Abraham. Paul anticipates that his Jewish audience will object to his message, and say that we must keep the law (do good works) in order to be saved, and reminds them that keeping the law was not a part of the deal.
Romans 4:14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:
Romans 4:15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
Apparently the aforementioned promise was not just for Abraham, but for all. The question is, how does a person obtain this promise? By works, or as a gift by faith?
Paul argues that if the promise is obtained by keeping the law, then it is no good to anyone, because anyone who tries to keep the law eventually fails, and thus comes under God’s wrath.
Romans 4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,
Instead of making the promise available through works, God decided to make it available through faith. And anyone can believe, whether they are a Jew or not.
Romans 4:17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
Because Abraham is the father of all that believe, and people from many different nations have followed his example of belief, Abraham has become the father of many nations.
The second part of verse 17 makes an important point about God. God often makes a statement that seems to be ridiculous to the human mind, and then waits to see if we will believe Him. Those that believe are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 11:6) Those that don’t believe have effectively called God a liar. (1 John 5:10)
Romans 4:18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
Romans 4:19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb:
Romans 4:20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;
Abraham gave much glory to God by choosing to believe what God said, (that he would have a son,) when everything around him seemed to indicate that that was impossible.
Romans 4:21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
Romans 4:22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
God was apparently so impressed with Abraham’s faith, that He decided to give him the gift of righteousness.
Romans 4:23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him;
Romans 4:24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;
Romans 4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
God did not record the story of Abraham just so that we could read it and know what a great guy Abraham was. With Abraham, God created a door to salvation that is opened by faith, not by works, and the story of Abraham shows us how to open that door.
God came to Abraham and made a statement that seemed to be impossible, that a 100-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife, who had never been able to have a child together, would have a son. But despite the evidence to the contrary, Abraham believed that God would do just as he had promised, and God imputed righteousness to Abraham’s account.
God comes to us and makes a statement that seems to be just as impossible, that the God who created mankind, and then watched as they plunged into wickedness, became a man Himself. That Man then lived a life of perfect righteousness, thus earning the ticket to Heaven that no other man has ever been able to earn. Then, instead of using His ticket for Himself, He suffered and died on a cross, thus taking upon Himself the punishment for the sin of all mankind. Having paid for our sin, that Man then rose from the dead, and now offers His ticket to all who will take it.
In conclusion, God says to us, “Good news! Not only is your sin paid for, there is a place in Heaven waiting for you! There is nothing you need to do, Jesus took care of everything!” Having made that statement, God then waits to see if we will believe Him, and stop trying to earn eternal life. (Remember verse 5? Work not, and believe!) To those who respond as did Abraham, God imputes eternal life.
Regarding James 2, it is interesting that Abraham is mentioned there too, and at first glance, it seems like James is saying the opposite of what Paul says in Romans 4, that salvation is through works. But let’s take a closer look at the passage.
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James 2:15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
James 2:16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
Let’s say that there is a person that says he is a believer, but continues in sin and apathy toward his fellow man. What good is that kind of faith? Will that kind of faith really save someone on Judgement Day?
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
A “faith” that does not produce any works is a dead faith. It’s not a weak faith, or a second-grade faith, it’s a dead faith.
James 2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
This is the key verse of the passage. Faith is invisible. If a person says he has faith, he cannot justify his claim by simply pulling it out and showing it to those around him.
Imagine that we have a man that says that he has faith, but he has no works to back up his claim. James says to that man, “Shew me thy faith without thy works.” But the man can’t, because faith is invisible, and the only way to know if it is there is to look for the fruit of faith (good works), which in this case is absent. The point is that it is impossible to know if a man has faith if he has no works.
James then says, “I have faith, and I will prove it to you. See, here are all my good works.” When a person truly believes, that faith produces fruit.
James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
James reminds us that not all faith is saving faith. The demons believe that there is only one God, but that doesn’t make them Christians.
James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
When God told Abraham that he would have a son, Abraham believed. However, believing that God would give him a son did not require Abraham to do anything, therefore, it was impossible for those around Abraham to know whether or not he really had faith.
But then, when God asked Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham actually had to do something. And when he did it, it was a testimony to all that he really did have faith in God.
James 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Abraham did not have dead faith, he had real faith, and that faith caused him to do good works.
Faith is a good thing, but it becomes even better once it produces good works.
James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
If James was trying to say that we are saved by works, it would not make sense for him to quote this passage, which talks about Abraham receiving righteousness by faith.
James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
Usually when we think of a person who has been “justified,” we think of someone who has been saved. However, as we have seen in this passage, a person can also be justified in other ways. For example, a person makes a statement, and initially there is debate as to whether he is right. Then, new information comes to light, and it turns out that the person was right all along. We could say he has been justified. (Also see my use of the word “justified” in my comment on James 2:18)
If a man claims to have faith, his claim cannot be justified by his faith alone. If his claim is to be justified, there must be works to back it up.
James 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
In Hebrews 11:31, it says that Rahab was saved by her faith. So was she saved by faith, or justified by works? Both! Because of her faith, Rahab hid the spies (good works). Some may have doubted if she really had faith, but her actions proved that she really did. Her works justified her claim of faith.
And of course, without her faith, Rahab would not have hid the spies, which resulted in Rehab being saved in the battle of Jericho. That’s why the author of Hebrews says that Rahab was saved by faith.
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Once again, a faith that does not produce works is a faith that cannot save, it is a dead faith.
In conclusion, in Romans 4, Paul makes the case that we are justified by faith, not by works. James does not contradict Paul, but instead points out that true faith bears fruit. If there is no fruit, the only conclusion we can come to is that there is no faith.