Sola Fide? Sola Scriptura?
Sinclair Ferguson answers this question here.
Commenter Nick asks several important questions regarding the faith of Abraham in his comment on when Abraham was justified. He writes:
“You had said: “This obedient act (Gen. 22) occurred many years after Abraham’s gospel justification (Gen. 15).”
Seeing that Abraham was a believer long before Genesis 15, starting as early as Genesis 12 (see Hebrews 11:8 and Galatians 3:8), how do you know the Genesis 15 event was not simply a “shown to be righteous” event as well? It seems like it would be Pelagianism to suggest Abraham was not saved until Genesis 15.”
In Genesis 12, the LORD tells Abram to “go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Abram, in obedience, proceeded to the land of Canaan. He trusted God. Was Abram justified (credited with righteousness) in Genesis 12 based on his response of faith? Several issues need to be addressed.
The first issue relates to the content of faith. In Genesis 15, Abram believed God’s promise of a child that would be miraculously born, and through whom the promise would be fulfilled. This promise of a future child was initially made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, and would come through the line of Seth, her third-born son. All the Old Testament saints believed in the promise of the one who would remove the curse that resulted from the fall. The promise of Isaac to Abram, via his barren wife Sarai, foreshadowed the coming Messiah, Jesus. It is by faith in Jesus alone that one is justified. The OT saints looked forward to Jesus. We NT saints look backward.
Another issue raised by Nick: Since Abram trusted God by leaving for Canaan, was he not saved then? I think this question touches on what is known as the ordo salutis, or “order of salvation.” Protestants believe that justification is by faith alone. But how does this work out? I believe that salvation is a gift of God from first to last. Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” But some may say, ”but don’t we have to receive the gift of faith? Doesn’t our wise choice present some merit on our part?” This touches on the question of free will, and the resulting question raised by Nick about Pelagianism.
Getting back to the ordo salutis, some teach that it is the Word that regenerates the soul, resulting in justification. Thus, we are called to share the “good news” of the gospel. Those who believe are justified. But who will believe? Don’t some reject the word? How then can it be the gospel/word that is the initial cause? I believe that before the Word can do its work, there must be a gift given that is passively received, so that there is a positive response to the message. This is the gift of life imparted directly by the Holy Spirit – the soul is quickened. I highly recommend a chapter from A. W. Pink that discusses quickening. Here is a link to this discussion.
Getting back to Abram, he obeyed God in Genesis 12. Perhaps Abram was already quickened (but not yet justified) and began hungering for spiritual things at this point. Like many of us, his spiritual journey included many rabbit trails. For example, he did not obey God fully when he brought Lot along with him to Canaan. He was told to leave his relatives. Also, he sojourned to Egypt, and deceived Pharaoh about his wife being his sister.
The point I want to make is this: salvation is indeed a process, that begins with quickening, proceeds to justification, and sanctification, and finally glorification. So, Abram trusted God back in Genesis 12, and perhaps he was even justified back then. He may have been trusting in the promised seed. But Genesis 15 clearly shows that our justification is the result of a specific kind of faith, saving faith in Messiah. It is not as important to nail down ”when” Abram was justified. What is very important is the ground of his justification: faith in the coming promised One. Abram believed, and as a result was “reckoned” righteous. I am an accountant by trade, and “reckoned” is “accounted.” We Protestants believe that the righteousness of Jesus is credited to us, at the time of belief in the gospel. And that works of obedience are the fruit of our justification.
Nick, I hope this helps to clarify the Protestant understanding of justification. We believe that there is an unbreakable chain of salvation. All who are quickened will be glorified. And no one is able to receive the gift of salvation unless they are made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit’s quickening (Jn. 3:8).
Thanks again for your comment.
Mathematicians and Numerologists Together: The Gift of Numbers
We, Mathematicians and Numerologists, have noticed that there is a growing cooperation between “one” and “two.” There are many activities where “one” and “two” are found working together. Of course, there are equations. Lately, however, we have noticed that both “one” and “two” have been seen in many lists. We have been greatly encouraged by this ongoing development. Through reflection on Algebra and Number Theory, and aided by the great mathematical minds of history, we can bear witness to the importance of both “one” and “two.”
In 1994, we released “Mathematicians and Numerologists Together.” At the time, there was much controversy concerning our claim that “one” is as good as “two” and that “two” is as good as “one.” It was determined that future conversations would be helpful to address outstanding questions related to the equivalence of “one” and “two.” Thus, in the Fall of 1996, it was determined that further progress depended upon firm agreement on the nature of numbers. As a result of many meetings, we have prepared a second document “The Gift of Numbers.” We express our gratitude to the President of the Council for Promoting Numerical Unity for his active support in this process.
In this second document, we hope to show that “one” in fact equals “two.” Both sides agree that, because of our finite minds, we have difficulty understanding how “one” equals “two.” And, we may not fully understand it this side of infinity. Still, we are called to promote this great truth together. We must not let our witness as lovers of numbers to be compromised by needlessly divisive disputes about numerical differences. The effectiveness of our witness to Science depends upon the work of promoting the equivalence of “one” and “two.”
There is much upon which we already agree:
- We affirm together the binding authority of the laws of Mathematics
- We affirm that “two” is made up of “one” twice
- We affirm that if “one” is taken away from “two,” the resulting number is “one”
Further, we have noted these other areas of convergeance:
- Both are integers
- Both are whole numbers
- Both are prime numbers
- In fact, “one” and “two” are even consecutive numbers
A recent discovery even shows that both “one” and “two” consist of three letters. We hope to build upon this unity.
While rejoicing in the amazing similarities between “one” and “two,” and confident of the fundamental truths of these cardinal numbers, we recognize that there are necessarily interrelated questions that require urgent exploration. For example:
One – How can numbers have different values while at the same time have the same value?
One – How can “one” be alone, but “two” be together?
One – Diverse understandings of equivalence, identity, ratios, addition and subtraction, and what it means to be a “whole number.”
Also, some hold that “two” has gone beyond “one,” or that “two” denies the oneness of “one.” Others believe that “one” denies the fullness of “two” and leads to a truncated and reduced understanding of numbers.
This list of differences is by no means complete; there is a second list. This list of differences is complete; there is only one list.
Nevertheless, and neverthemore, mathematicians and numerologists who believe that “one” and “two” are important numbers must not let any differences, however important, undermine the great truth “one” equals “two.” We must be especially careful to avoid division, such as dividing “two” in half. Only oneness in the truth is important; unless you think twoness is also important.
Finally, in humility we realize that there are also some mathematicians and numerologists who hold allegiance to “three.” They even hold that “three” is the answer to the problem of unity between “one” and “two.” We admire their sincerity, and notice that “three” is also found in many lists, and is in fact another prime number. In the future, our discussion may include mathematicians for the “three” crowd.
We are excited about what the future holds, and we look forward to a day when all numbers may be “one.”
For a link to the wordsmithing, logic-defying, another-gospel-preaching, compromising, untruthful ECT II: The Gift of Salvation, click Here.
The material cause of the Reformation was justification by faith alone, or “Sola Fide.” Catholics are quick to point to James 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” The Catholic teaching is that justification is a process that includes the merit of good works. Does James support this claim?
The day I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I underwent a radical shift. I went from being dead spiritually to being alive spiritually. The Holy Spirit convicted me that I was indeed a sinner, with no hope of meriting salvation. I repented and believed the gospel. As a result, all my sins were pardoned, and I was granted eternal life.
Was I grateful for this gift? Yes, abundantly. And as all new believers, I longed for God and His Word. I also longed to be obedient in all areas of my life. You see, saving faith leads to gratitude which leads to a desire for obedience.
But not all who claim to be Christian are “born from above.” There are false professors out there. Perhaps they were not convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, but instead thought of Christ as a way to enjoy life. “God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life. Just accept Jesus, and all will be well for you.” Without conviction, there is no gratitude. Gratitude is the fruit of true salvation.
James is warning false professors. True saving faith is not an “alone faith.” It is a faith that generates obedience and godly living. But does this fully explain James 2:24?
I think that James is also using the word “justification” as “shown to be righteous.” He is not using the term as Paul is when he discusses the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. Words often have multiple meanings, and this is the case in this passage. James uses the example of our father Abraham, who in obedience offered up Isaac. This obedient act (Gen. 22) occurred many years after Abraham’s gospel justification (Gen. 15). The offering up of Isaac was further proof of Abraham’s saving faith. It “showed” his faith, and by this obedience his faith in God is justified in the eyes of man. But in the eyes of God, Abraham was justified when he first believed God.
I think that this explains James, without denying that we are justified by faith, apart from the works of the law. “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3).
Here is a link to Ligonier and R. C. Sproul on James 2:24