Not saved, but being saved

November 26, 2007 at 11:28 pm 39 comments

While reading E. P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) this evening, I was intrigued by Sanders’ observation that the apostle Paul almost always uses the verb “save” in the present or future tenses. Only once, in Romans 8:24, does he use the verb in the past (aorist) tense.

Typical of Paul’s usage is Rom. 5:9, which says that “we shall be saved through him from the wrath,” or Rom. 10:9, which says that we “shall be saved” if we confess and believe.

Elsewhere, in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the present passive participle “being saved” in contrast with “being destroyed.” For example, 1 Cor. 1:18 – “the word of the cross is folly to those being destroyed but the power of God to those being saved.”

Interesting that Paul views salvation as a work in progress, not as something completed. I wonder how he would react to the man in the pew who claims he was saved at a tent meeting in ’79?

[Oops: I forgot the page numbers in Sanders and already returned the book, but this discussion was on p. 450 or immediately thereabouts. Sorry.]


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Why not speed? (pt. 2) The Giver

39 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rick Beckman  |  November 27, 2007 at 12:38 am

    That makes sense.

    There certainly are aspects of salvation, though, which are one-timers — being declared justified, being baptized by the Spirit, and being adopted into God’s family comes to mind.

    But salvation is indeed described as a process, albeit a process we can be secure in.

    I’m in the process of reading “The Christ of the Covenants” by O. Palmer Robertson, and he points out that salvation for God’s people has always come about by the destruction of His enemies; if that holds true for Christians as it did for the Israelites, then the believers’ ultimate salvation will come with the defeat of all adversaries — death, Satan, etc.

  • 2. Sam  |  November 27, 2007 at 3:03 am

    I also noticed this recently doing a study of Romans. There is a distinct ‘saved, but not yet saved’ tension. See as well, Colossians 1:21-23, note especially the qualitifaction in v23.

  • 3. Karl Bakla  |  November 27, 2007 at 3:05 am

    Even though I am one who professes compassion & love I am constantly being told by my hate filled & overly prejudice Christian coworkers that I will burn in hell. Why do my coworkers who don’t care about the environment, eat meat, support war, & our hateful get to go to Heaven when I have to burn in hell?
    – Karl Bakla

    • 4. Dennis Johnson  |  November 16, 2013 at 4:34 am

      Karl, the Bible does not teach being compassionate will get you to heaven, but only by fully embracing the truth of God, who came to this world as Jesus, and died in our place. This gospel is our salvation. There is only one truth on this, (just as by definition- there is only one truth on ANY topic.) Truth is the actual reality.

      Christians should care about the environment, within reason. Global warming is a natural occurrence, which has happened over centuries past, and CO2 is not harmful. The main issue is the future of human beings, where will you spend eternity? Will you reconcile to your creator or reject Him? We must seek the truth and be willing to lay hold of it, even if it doesn’t agree with our tastes; then it is our tastes that must change. The Bible does not forbid eating of meat; animals aren’t on the same level with man. I do agree with you; many Christians are duped by the Republican party to believe we need all these wars, but we do not.

      Well, I hope that helps. Feel free to email and discuss. I know your comment is 2007, but I found it today.

  • 5. doclucio  |  November 27, 2007 at 8:36 am

    That seems to be right in line with Adventist/Methodist thought on sanctification. I agree with Sam that there appears to be that tension. On one hand, we are already victors in Christ but on the other hand we haven’t completely won yet. Likewise, can we say we’ve been declared (legally?) saved but haven’t be saved yet?

    Great observation!

  • 6. James Pate  |  November 27, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Good point, but I have a question. Can I have assurance that right here, right now, I am a born again child of God, a new creature, and forgiven of my sins?

  • 7. Sam Chrisp  |  November 27, 2007 at 10:00 pm

    @James: I don’t see how we can get objective ‘forever’ assurance purely from the Bible — that is, the confidence to state absolutely, no matter what one does, one has been born again and will be saved.

    I think the clearest answer given to the question of “how do I know I’m saved?” is by our fruits: Luke 6:43-49, Matthew 7:13-27, all of 1 John (note 5:13), James 2 etc.

    Given the subjective nature of it, and the lack of clear direction regarding it, I don’t include the testimony of the Holy Spirit — but I think it’s also a factor.

    All IMHO.

  • 8. James Pate  |  November 28, 2007 at 7:58 am

    I agree with what you said, Sam. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there is such a state as “saved.” There are two types of people: those who are in the saved, born again, Son of God category, and those who are not. And if there are people in the saved category, then there had to be a time when they entered that category, making salvation something that one received in the past. Can one ever lose that state? Yes, according to Hebrews and Peter. But it’s still a state that someone entered at some time.

  • 9. Sam Chrisp  |  November 28, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Yup, I agree with the states. But it seems to me that our true *assurance*, or proof, of which state we belong to, is that we persevere to the very end.

    Can one ever lose that state? Yes, according to Hebrews and Peter.

    The perseverence of the saints is a whole other discussion 🙂

  • 10. James Pate  |  November 28, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    Yeah, I realized after I saw John Owen on your blog that I may have just started WWIII, but thanks for your gracious response. I’ll read what you have to say.

  • 11. Sam Chrisp  |  November 29, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    Well, I haven’t yet read his The death of death in the death of Christ 🙂 I’m only speaking from my somewhat fledgling understanding of the bible thus far.

  • 12. Jamie  |  December 2, 2007 at 1:57 am

    Rick, Sam, and DocLucio: All of you noted that there are some aspects of salvation that are a one-time experience, which I think is a valid point. On the other hand, I’m beginning to think that very few of those aspects are one time only. Take even the baptism of the Holy Spirit: is that a one-time experience, or does that occur repeatedly, even daily? At the very least, something like that is relational, and the relationship is ongoing, like a marriage.

    Karl: I don’t know if you’ll come back to read this, but I regret that you’ve had bad experiences with Christians. That is unfortunate.

    I obviously can’t provide a fully satisfactory answer in a blog comment, but maybe it’s helpful to point out that not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually acts like one. Some people claim the name and never bother to act the part.

    Not just that, but I think it’s important to note that Christians are, as I said in this post, being saved, but the process isn’t finished yet. That means that even Christians with good intentions aren’t going to get it right every time. I’m sure some people come across as judgmental even though they don’t mean to. Right now, we’re still sinners. Unfortunate, but true. I suppose all we can do at the moment is learn to grant each other grace.

    Again, though, I’m sorry for your bad experiences.

    James: I think the Bible is pretty clear that we are supposed to be able to have confidence about our standing before God. 1 John 5:13 indicates as much: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

    There is the flip side, as in the verses in Hebrews and Peter that you have in mind, but I don’t think we were meant to remain in a state of constant uncertainty. The Bible is written precisely to give us confidence.

  • 13. Stephen  |  December 3, 2007 at 1:35 am

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there is such a state as “saved.” There are two types of people: those who are in the saved, born again, Son of God category, and those who are not.

    But consider that statement in light of what Jamie wrote. Instead of saying that some people are “saved”, how about saying that some people are “being saved”?

    You can still have your two kinds of people. Those who have made a confession of sin and a profession of allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ are “being saved”. Those who haven’t, are “perishing”.

    (Actually, I’m hesitant to state categorically that anyone is perishing. That’s God’s judgement to make, not mine. But the above comment is written from within your frame of reference.)

  • 14. James Pate  |  December 5, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    I’m open to that, I suppose. We have been saved once we enter the family of God, but we are being saved in a practical sense from sin. And we will be saved when we will be delivered at the last judgment.

  • 15. David Ketter  |  December 22, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    Sanders….is an interesting guy. I’m very pro-Jewish perspective, but I don’t hold much with Sanders’ misconceptions of Judaism (I’ve had the current Sanhedrin give me insights into First Century Judaism and Sanders is on the right track, but misses the boat).

    At any rate, after studying James intensely this summer, I’ve come to see justification and sanctification a little differently than perhaps most Protestants would be comfortable with. The problem is the way that we’ve viewed justification: a simple legal decree. Knowing that God is not one to just make legal decrees, I considered how God communicated His will in the past: prophetically. Thus, if we look at justification as a prophetic decree, we must then see sanctification as God’s working out what He has declared to be true. So God declares us righteous through Christ and then, through Christ, makes us like Him in holiness and purity. Thus, the true salvation and redemption is accomplished at the end of days, in the resurrection of the dead. Praise God! 😀

  • 16. The Reformed Pastor  |  December 23, 2007 at 8:21 pm

    Are you saying that one should not view any part of his salvation as completed in the past?

    Or are you just bringing to light the truth that the salvific plan of God is something that began before time began and will be brought to completion at the consummation of all this under the reign of God? “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom 8:30)

    Or are you saying that a Christian should not speak of himself as “saved”. Because salvation is a process?

    Or any combination of those three?

    Or something else?

  • 17. David Ketter  |  December 25, 2007 at 10:27 am

    I’m acknowledging the tension between the “already and not-yet.” We are guaranteed our salvation and guaranteed our inheritance by the very Word of God – thus, in that sense, we are saved. In the sense of redemption being completed, it is very much in process. The Christian can speak with confidence of God’s salvation of his/her soul, but should never be so comfortable in saying that their salvation is COMPLETE. Completion comes with consummation. Assurance comes through Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in the present time. Make something?

  • 18. The Reformed Pastor  |  December 25, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Oops..sorry David the question was not directed to you. I guess it helps to state who you are asking the question too. I was asking Jamie Kiley those questions.

    But a question for you, what is your Biblical and Greek Linguistic defense for saying that justification is a prophecy? How do you explain Rom 4:5, And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted (λογίζομαιo: count, reckon, calculate, compute) as righteousness. Or Rom 4:9-10, Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. Interesting how Paul put the justification of Abraham at a specific time in history before he was circumcised. justification was a done deal for Abraham before he was circumcised. It was not being “worked out” in any way. There was nothing left to be done. Abraham was justified. Or Rom 5:1, Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. What does Paul say? have been justified. I find no hints of a justification that is still being worked out.

  • 19. The Reformed Pastor  |  December 25, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Oh, and Merry Christmas everybody! 🙂

  • 20. David Ketter  |  December 26, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Justification itself is not worked out. Justification itself, however, is a prophetic ordinance of God of what is to become the reality of the individual by the grace of God.

    In regards to Greek, I don’t claim to know it all, but I know contextually some things – namely, that Paul knew Greek as a second language, that Judaic use of Greek often differed from the way that Gentiles used it, and that if we based our theology on the a linguistic argument, we’d be in a lot of trouble. However, I will say that I’ve heard from numerous pastors and reformed professors that λογίζομαιo is NOT strictly related to a legal terminology or business transaction, but in Judeo-Greek often refers to the prophetic utterance of Yahweh. Of course, I won’t base my theology of justification on that, but it lends credence to the view, at any rate.

    Biblically, however, I’ll call to witness the testimony of James in continuing Paul’s argument in Romans. See James 2:21-24 (ESV):

    Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

    Consider the Biblical context here. Abraham was justified before the giving of circumcision. Yet, that justification was not the end. His walk with God progressed for years following that. Jewish tradition (that James knew) says that Isaac was about 40 years old when Abraham took him to Mount Moriah. Decades of sanctification went on during the time between Abraham’s justification and the “work” that James uses as an example of God’s saving grace in his life. Particularly note that James is not referring to the λογίζομαιo but to the εδικαιωθη – that is to say, the becoming righteous, rather than the counting/declaring/prophesying righteous.

    Prophecy, as you know, is made at a distinct historical time and is then worked out in a distinct historical time by the sovereign hand of God. I see no place where seeing justification as prophecy will take away from the doctrines of grace, but, in fact, it demonstrates all the more the necessity of becoming holy by the grace of God.

    In the Shadow of the Cross,
    David Ketter

  • 21. Stephen (aka Q)  |  December 26, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Reformed Pastor:
    To make sense of the various texts (some say “justified”, as you point out; others say “are being saved”; others say “shall be saved”, as Jamie points out), I think we would have to consider God’s peculiar relationship to time.

    If God is outside of time, past and present are meaningless concepts from God’s perspective. I think there is a sense in which our justification is a completed work from God’s outside-of-time perspective.

    But from a human perspective, I would continue to defend the thesis that our justification is not yet accomplished. I know, insofar as its merely a juridical decree, God has already declared me forgiven. But I don’t know anyone who shows any signs of being perfectly saved, not excluding myself.

  • 22. Stephen (aka Q)  |  December 26, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    I meant to say — nice template!

    And Merry Christmas to you!

  • 23. The Reformed Pastor  |  December 26, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    David, here is my biggest problem with your prophecy justification. It is no where in the Bible. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, never mentioned anything about God prophesying justification. Instead, it seems that Paul holds justification to be a settled fact. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1) Not something that will be. When one takes what he is saying upfront, justification is a done deal when one places their faith in Christ. Now, don’t take me to saying that something taken upfront cannot be wrong. It can be. But Rom 5:1 just goes completely contrary to where you want justification to go.

    There is a problem with just quoting James and saying, “look, see, our works have something to do with justification.” For Paul said, For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.(Rom 3:28) and in 4:1-6: What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, There seems to be a contradiction here between Paul and James. But God does not contradict Himself. So what is the answer?

    What do you believe about the “vindication” interpretation of this passage? That is, when James used the term “justify” he did not have the same meaning in mind as Paul did. Paul was talking about sinners being made acceptable to a holy God. While James was talking about Christians who profess allegiance to Christ yet their lives did not show it. James was not continuing Paul’s thesis. He was, in fact, talking about a different area of the Christian walk than Paul was. If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17) The justification that James has in mind is not God declaring sinners just in His sight but our faith vindicating itself. We are not justified by works in the sense that our works will make us righteous in the sight of God. But that our Christian faith is vindicated by our works. This is very plausible in the Greek. For the same Greek word James used for justify (δικαιόω)is the same Greek word used when Jesus said, Yet wisdom is justified by all her children (Luke 7:35) Now, was Jesus saying that wisdom is made righteous in the sight of God by her children? No. What justified meant in that case was vindicated, shown true. Why can’t one put that meaning into James use of justified?

    Thus, with the vindication theory, Paul can say that our justification is not from our works and James can say that true faith is not justified with out works. True faith produces works. So our sanctification is the works produced by true faith. Justification is what causes sanctification. Our sins are truly defeated (not in a “it will be, so lets live like it is” since. Which is what I get from the future justification view. It is interesting that your view of fighting sin is such (or, how I am hearing you say it) we fight sin because sin will be defeated in us. That is the meaning of your prophecy view. It really has not happened but it will. And it is on the sure hope of that promise that we fight on. It has not happened, but it will. But Paul on the other hand says this, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:1-4) Paul says that our basis for living the Christians life is something that has happened in the past. That is our hope for fighting sin. We are already victorious! We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Rom 6:6) The death of Christ which was a historical event that happened before our time is the hope we have for winning against sin. Why, because sin was defeated! We were crucified with Him. Paul does not tell us to look forward to what will happen but what has happened.

    So, can you explain all this to me? Let me make it clear, I am asking questions more that I am stating my own position. I am not sure how you understand the modification of sin with your view of justification. So, hence the long paragraph prodding you to give your position. So, right now my view of your stance is such:

    1. There is no Biblical backing for your view of Justification.
    The understanding you have of it seems foreign to Paul.

    2. It does not seem to answer the seeming conflict between Paul and James well enough.

    3.There are alternative answers to the question of Paul and James.

    Stephen (aka Q):

    How does God’s omnipresence mean that justification cannot be declared when one has faith? Isn’t our adoption as Children of God a done deal? Or is that still up in the air because God is omnipresent? But, to say that God’s omnipresent means that justification cannot happen in our life. Who can say that it will happen at all? Your position is very confusing. If God’s omnipresence means that justification cannot be complete, what can be complete?

    Yes God is outside time, yet God graciously works in this time. The Bible itself, not just what’s inside of it, testifies to such. God acts in our lives with it’s sequences of motions to give us the greatest joy which is glorifying Him. He worked in our time with creation, all the why through the time of the patriarchs. Through the time of Israel. He even set down into our flesh and walked amongst us. Giving His own life to satisfy His own wrath against sin. So that sinners be delivered and glorify Him. God’s love is shown wondrously by him working amongst our sequences of motions we call time. Why does justification have to be different?

  • 24. David Ketter  |  December 27, 2007 at 12:19 pm

    RP [heh, that’s just a bit of an ironic initialing, since I use that term to refer to Reformed Presbyterians, with whom I have collaborated to arrive at this conclusion]:

    You have said Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, never mentioned anything about God prophesying justification.. I have tried to make clear in my last post that it is not that justification is prophesied, but that justification itself IS prophecy. Justification is the prophetic declaration of God of the future reality that He will bring about through sanctification. It is not that justification is a future event, it is that justification points us to a future event – namely, the final redemption and consummation.

    You have assumed far too much in my quotation of James. I’d encourage you to re-read what I said and not see it as an argument for works salvation. You have to understand something of the way that God approaches His covenant. All the prophets look forward and even the apostles look forward (look to their question in Acts 1: “Lord, are you at THIS TIME going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?). God works in His people NOW for the purpose of bringing about what He has promised/prophesied LATER. Septuagint uses the same word that Paul uses for “reckon” in prophetic utterances. Also, the Hebrew in Genesis 15 has to do with “plotting” or “planning” – not with a legal sentence (which would be related to the root dayan or shaphat).

    Imposing Paul on James, by the way, would be an error in hermeneutics. James was written before Romans and it is James who made the judgment at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 – and Paul regards him as superior, a pillar of the Church. Thus, in the processes of Biblical theology and historical theology, we must needs consider James first and THEN Paul.

    The understanding you have of it seems foreign to Paul. That is only the case if you believe in Luther’s Paul…Luther, who portrays Paul as some sort of radical anti-Law, anti-Jewish person, when in fact Paul had done nothing to offend against the Law after his conversion of his own will. He testified before the Sanhedrin and the Romans that he had not profaned the law among the Gentiles. But that’s another debate, and we should perhaps reserve that for another time. In regards to the alternative answers, the vindication approach seems to require far too much in the category of “theological acrobatics.”

    God willing, this has clarified my position that justification is a “now” thing but its nature is prophetic. It has to do with the covenant promises of God. He has justified us in view of what the cross has done. He is sanctifying us by that same power of Christ and in the redemption, makes good His promise of holiness in the sight of God. Justification is the covenant promise.

  • 25. Stephen (aka Q)  |  December 27, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    I’m not coming from a Wrightian perspective, which seems to be the goad you’re kicking against in your dialogue with David. But, with respect, I think your dogmatic Reformed position is a somewhat superficial reading of scripture.

    And I don’t think you’ve made an honest effort to consider what I’ve written, except to dismiss it as confusing. But maybe my communication was poor. Let me try a different approach.

    I’m sure you understand that Christians live in the tension between the “now” and the “not yet”. The event that saved us (Christ’s crucifixion/resurrection) is in the past. So is our act of faith by which we participate in the benefits of Christ’s crucifixion/resurrection.

    However, the consummation of our salvation has not yet happened. We still get sick, we still die prematurely, we continue to sin despite Paul’s bold assertion that we have died to sin. And so we cry out, “Our Lord, come!” — because we long for our salvation to be consummated.

    We live in this place of tension, knowing that to some extent Paul’s assertions don’t match up with our experience in the “real” world. But we trust the consummation is coming, when all things will be made perfect.

    Now let’s introduce the theological term, “proleptic”. In some sense, the consummation has already arrived. “If I, by the Spirit of God, cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” John also has some verses that strongly teach the consummation had already arrived with Christ’s appearance.

    What we’re getting is a foretaste of something that will come, in its fullness, later — at the end of salvation history. Paul himself makes this plain when he talks about “firstfruits” and “down payments”. Already we have received a foretaste of God’s kingdom — the kingdom has broken into our world before the time (i.e., proleptically).

    If you want to jump into the Wright/Piper debate, you might consider this post by a blogger I highly respect. Doug makes some reference to a proleptic experience of salvation without using the theological term:

    “For Wright, Paul sees this judgement and vindication having already taken place in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. … To be justified is to be identified with the one who has already been justified in the face of the Law’s condemnation. Justification, then, is a present anticipation and experience of what those who are identified with Jesus in his death and resurrection will receive at the final judgement.”

    “Present anticipation and experience” = the firstfruits or down payment toward our salvation.

    Christians may legitimately disagree over where the emphasis lies: on the past, present, or future aspects of salvation. If I may presume to speak for Jamie, I think she and I are in fundamental agreement on this point: the substance of our salvation lies in the future, even if we experience a down payment on it in the present.

    Hence, we are in the process of being saved. It is seriously misleading to speak as if we are already saved.

    To return to my earlier point, God (who stands outside of time) may already regard us as dead to the old man of sin. But scripture is clear that the full realization of that blessed hope is not yet.

  • 26. James Pate  |  December 28, 2007 at 8:10 am

    Hi Reformed Pastor:

    What do you mean when you say that faith is vindicated, according to James? Do you mean that the believer’s faith is shown to be real when he does good works? Or that good works demonstrate that the faith is true?

  • 27. Stephen  |  December 28, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Reformed Pastor is advocating a non-standard translation of James 2:24 (and related passages in James 2). You probably know that there’s an apparent contradiction between Paul and James:

    Romans 3:28 —
    For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

    James 2:24 —
    You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

    If I understand him correctly, Reformed Pastor is advocating the translation, “You see that a person is vindicated by works and not by faith alone.” So it isn’t faith that is vindicated; rather the believer is vindicated by faith.

    I’m not persuaded that changing the translation makes the problem go away.

    Liberal that I am, I think the dispute between Paul and James is substantive, not merely verbal. James stands in the non-pauline Christian tradition that was later represented by the Ebionites, who “insisted on a universal necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites …, revered [Jesus’] brother James as the head of the Jerusalem Church and rejected Paul of Tarsus as an “apostate of the Law.”

    Thus one can trace a clear line from James and Matthew (who said that not a jot or tittle of the law would pass away) through Paul’s “Judaizing” opponents (see in particular Gal. 2) to the Ebionites.

    In my view, James meant exactly what the ESV translation asserts: we are justified by works of the law and not by faith alone. In other words, James is familiar with Paul’s position and explicitly repudiates it.

    • 28. Gordon  |  April 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm


      I see no contradiction between Paul and James, Paul is saying we are not saved by adherence to the laws of Moses.One is justified by faith apart from the works of the law(Rom 3:28). James says that to keep the law perfectly is an impossible task (James 2:10). The Old Laws could only accuse and condemn but not convict or lead the heart to repentance. In addition,James also presided over the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) that declared it was not necessary for the new believers to keep the burdensome yoke and hopeless laws of Moses in order to be saved, They agreed we are only saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus,having had our hearts cleansed by faith and having been given the Holy Spririt to enable us to produce the good works of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. ( its all there in the chapter)
      They rightly concluded the Torah had reached its “sell-by” date, was now obsolete and would soon disappear.(Heb 8:13)
      The law had served its purpose and had been completely fulfilled by Christ in his life,teaching and sacrifice. It was superseded by an altogether new and better covenant of grace, with a much higher, deeper and wider moral standard of living than the laws of Moses required.
      So Paul was able to sum up what James, Peter and the other Apostles said in Acts 15 , viz ; we are not under the law (of Moses) but under grace (Rom 6:14), but that does not mean we are free from God’s law, but we are under Christ’s law ( ! Cor 9: 21). Christ-like good works will always follow sound doctrine and true faith.
      Paul promotes this practical Christian living in all his epistles, not as a requirement for our salvation but as evidence of and a witness to the grace of God .Paul un-coupled the keeping of the law from faith in Christ alone as being the means of obtaining righteousness and justification. James was in full ageement. James couples faith and good works (not the law) as evidence of being saved. He uses the exaple of Abraham’s obedience, before the law was given. James says,in effect,you cannot justify your claim of having faith in Christ if you do not show evidence of it in your life. Your actions will justify your claim because faith/belief in Jesus Christ encompasses the works of listening, assent, trust,obedience, perseverance, service ,sharing, suffering and hope. Paul would fully agree. To me,there is no contradiction in the understanding of Paul and James on how we are justified by God and before men.

  • 29. The Reformed Pastor  |  December 29, 2007 at 12:39 am

    James Pate,

    What I hold to is that true faith in Christ causes one to delight in the things of Christ and become more and more disgusted with the ways of sin. Faith is not just affirming that you believe in some historical event. The demons do that. But true faith has an aspect of want in it. “I want Christ, not my sins.” Or one could repeat with the Apostle Paul, Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8) Faith is not some raw choice of, “I believe that Jesus was a real person. He died, rose again and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty.” Now, believing in the truth is absolutely essential for faith. But it is not the finishing step, so to speak. There must be the want of Christ. A desire, even if it is small, to want the joy of knowing Christ.

    I remember sitting across from the table from a young man, listening to his testimony. He told me of his rejection of his parents beliefs and finding pleasure in anything that the world would dish out to Him. He love the life. He loved going from party to party getting high with his buddies. He did not think about changing the way he was living. But one day, a person he new took him to a evangelistic youth gathering where he would hear the gospel. He sat there and listened to the preacher warn Him of the dangers of the path he was taking. Telling him of the person of Jesus Christ. And the punishment that awaited him if he did not turn to Christ. The Holy Spirit opened up his heart that night to hear the truth. after the service, he tossed and turned in his bed. Thinking and pondering what he had heard and what in meant for life. By the work of the Holy Spirit, the scales of error fail from his eyes and laying there on his bed he prayed, “God I love the life I am living, I love the drinking and the partying and the drugs…but God…I love you more.”

    That is true faith. Even if it is in the baby stages as it was for that young man. Faith has a aspect of it that wants what it believes. It is believing that wonderful truth of Christ and wanting Him above all else.

    So, how does this play into works? If faith is an aspect of the desires then works must follow. if I desire Christ, even if it is a small desire, I will change the ways am living to match the standard I want to achieve. Christ is the most satisfying person. Knowing Him cannot be compared to the fleeting pleasures of sin. Therefore, I will fight to remove the things that keep me from know Christ. Faith then will make one conform into the pattern of life that is pleasing to Christ by the fact that it is faith.

    That is the way I see faith to be by way of what I read from the scriptures. If one can prove other wise by means of the Scriptures I am willing to listen.

    hopefully that answers the question of my view of faith and works. If you want anything cleared up, please ask.


    Thanks for your clarifications. By no means do I ever purposely misconstrue somebody’s position. Hopefully you know that.

    Your belief of Justification as prophecy is something very knew to me. When one rewrites the definition of a very familiar word, it is hard to get the new definition away from the old one. That is why I had (and will have) a tough time separating your interpretation from mine.

    I would like the Biblical texts you use to get your view. Is James the only one that you us or are there more?

    Do explain by what you mean when you say “anti-Law” I don’t believe that Paul is anti-law at all. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Rom 3:31) But the law is not the end or our hope for salvation. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (Gal 3:10) The law was given to tell us of the holiness of God . It was to guide us from sin, Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions,(Gal 3:19a) But it was never intended to be our means of salvation. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Gal 3:24) The law was in place until Christ came to redeem us. So please explain yourself.

    (I know that I am getting into the NPP views. I don’t know where I disagree with you on this. I am just plopping down verses, but I am well aware that you might, or do, have different meanings for what Paul is saying here. So, forgive me if I seem to be using Paul in a wrong way, by your standards. I just don’t know your views on this. If you don’t want to type everything out, you can direct me to a article online or some where.)

    A new question about justification David. Does justification for you have to do with God declaring sinners righteous in His sight? I want to see if we are not having a more or less debate. in other words, do you still hold that justification deals with sinners being made right in God’s standings of holiness? Do you just add the prophecy part ( Not “a simple legal decree” But more) or have you thrown out the legal part entirely and made something new?

    Stephen (aka Q):

    “But, with respect, I think your dogmatic Reformed position is a somewhat superficial reading of scripture.”

    Obviously, you have some ill feelings with Reformed Theology. I would like to here how I have been “dogmatic” so far. Is it my confusion with your position? Or are you just throwing me into your general view of reformed Christians. Yes, some of us in the Reformed camp can come across as not being very flexible with our views, (of course, with some beliefs one should not be flexible) or kind in how we disagree. for that I apologies. And if you every find me as coming across as such, please let me know. But, If I have not done that personally, don’t label me as such.

    Or is it my position that is dogmatic in itself? I don’t know.

    When people use such labels, they generally using it to poison the well for others, or even for their own minds. I am not saying that you did such. But, if you don’t tell me how I have been dogmatic, It does not help the conversation.

    “And I don’t think you’ve made an honest effort to consider what I’ve written, except to dismiss it as confusing.”

    When I say that I was confused by what you said…I mean that I was confused by what you said. Please don’t start attributing things to me that I don’t do or mean.

    I full agree that we have not attained what we strive for. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14)

    We are getting pretty deep in NNP here. I am not too familiar with the belief system. As I asked David, if you know where to get good material on the subject please link me to it. I have John Piper’s book and plan to read it in the future. So, until I have more understanding on this subject, it may be best if I set back and learn some more.

    But thanks for the discussion so far James, David and Stephen, I have a lot to think about, learn and ponder.

    If any of you have anymore questions, feel free to ask.

    Soli Deo Gloria
    Charlie Albright

  • 30. David Ketter  |  December 29, 2007 at 11:39 am


    Thanks for your clarifications. By no means do I ever purposely misconstrue somebody’s position. Hopefully you know that.

    Aye, Charlie. I know it. 🙂

    I would like the Biblical texts you use to get your view. Is James the only one that you us or are there more?

    This understanding of justification is rooted in the Old Testament, observing how God deals with His people all throughout – particularly in the words of the prophets. What is especially compelling to me, however, is noting that the prophetic utterances hat look toward the New Covenant talk a whole lot more about sanctification and the final redemption than justification alone. My education in the Scriptures (self-directed) immersed me in the Old Testament and it was not until the last two years or so that I REALLY got into reading Paul in-depth. So, when I read Paul, the Old Testament continually frames how I understand him.

    Do explain by what you mean when you say “anti-Law” I don’t believe that Paul is anti-law at all.

    It has been the tendency of Protestants (particularly those who hail from Luther’s theological tradition) to construe Paul as being a man who was against observing Torah, when in fact he continued to observe it himself. The issue in most of Paul’s epistles is not observance of the Law, but righteousness by the Law and, particularly, Gentiles seeking to observe a Torah that was not given to them to observe. Thus, my own tendency is to present Paul as a pro-Torah teacher and, truly, demonstrate that it is only the faith in Messiah that gives Torah any value (particularly Matthew demonstrates this by presenting Jesus as Torah-Incarnate, much as Jeremiah was sure to suggest).

    I would love to direct you to an article, but, frankly, I don’t have one, except a rabbinic letter that may do more to challenge you than you’d like. I should clarify, however, that I’m not NPP. There is a great deal of congruence between my theology and NPP, but that is only because NPP begins to get on the right track in understanding Second Temple Judaism. My perspective is truly a Jewish one, rooted in the Old Testament Scriptures, and informed by many of the rabbinic teachings (90% of which echo or repeat the very teachings of Jesus). If you’d like to explore any of this further, I’d be happy to do so via email and/or facebook. 🙂

    Does justification for you have to do with God declaring sinners righteous in His sight?

    Yes…but it’s in view of the past (the cross) and the future (the resurrection of the dead). In other words, I am not separating justification from the focal points of redemptive history. Justification, were we to put it into Hebrew, is prefixed by coh amar YHWH (“This is what Yahweh says…”) and ended by ne’um YHWH (“The declaration/oracle of Yahweh”). It’s a prophetic utterance. 🙂

    in other words, do you still hold that justification deals with sinners being made right in God’s standings of holiness? Do you just add the prophecy part ( Not “a simple legal decree” But more) or have you thrown out the legal part entirely and made something new?

    Yes, it has to do with Yahweh’s declaration. What I am doing, however, is saying that it is primarily prophetic and, truly, only in a Gentile understanding would have any strictly legal implications. When the Hebrew hears prophetic witness, he recalls that he is hearing the covenant-prosecutors and testimonies of the King of Israel and His Torah. So, justification being prophetic does nothing to take away from its relation to Torah, because prophecy, by its own nature, is intimately connected to it. I hope that clarifies.

    In the Shadow of the Cross,

  • 31. James Pate  |  December 30, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Thanks for your response, Reformed Pastor (and others), but I’m still wondering what you mean when you say that works vindicate a person. Vindicate in what context? And how does vindication differ from justification?

  • 32. Jamie  |  December 30, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Thanks to everyone for all the discussion here. I sure didn’t anticipate that my original post would generate so many comments. I’m a bit late on sharing my own reaction, but I thought I ought to weigh in even at this late date.

    David: The problem is the way that we’ve viewed justification: a simple legal decree. […] God is not one to just make legal decrees

    Important observation.

    I personally don’t warm to the idea of justification as a simple legal decree, because it just doesn’t reflect reality (in that the sinner is still sinning and is obviously not perfect yet). If God simply makes a legal decree, then it is almost as if he is lying, because it’s obvious that the sinner is still sinful.

    I’m not totally sure about how I feel about justification as a prophetic decree (I’ll have to think about the implications some more), but to me that seems a much more reasonable interpretation of justification than the idea of a simple legal decree.

    Stephen: I think there is a sense in which our justification is a completed work from God’s outside-of-time perspective.

    But from a human perspective, I would continue to defend the thesis that our justification is not yet accomplished.

    Valid point, but I’m not so sure that this question hangs on establishing God’s relationship to time.

    Even disregarding God’s sense of time (or lack thereof), I think there is a sense in which we can be both “saved” and “being saved” and “about to be saved” all at the same time. These various ideas capture different angles on the idea of salvation. Maybe they have slightly different meanings, also, and can therefore be simultaneously true and yet not contradictory. But this can be the case regardless of how God relates to time.

    Reformed Pastor:Are you saying […]

    Or any combination of those three?

    Or something else?

    I honestly had not gone so far as to define precisely what I meant, and I’m still not sure precisely how to address your questions.

    I suppose my thinking on the matter was fairly simple: I was intrigued by Paul’s use of the present tense and the future tense to describe salvation, and I was intrigued because that represents a departure from how I normally think about the topic.

    But I wasn’t (and still am not) terribly worried about defining precisely what Paul meant by his choice of tenses. I’m more interested in merely noticing his language and allowing it to shape and critique my thinking.

    Does justification for you have to do with God declaring sinners righteous in His sight? [H]ave you thrown out the legal part entirely and made something new?

    I know this question was directed at David, but I thought I’d weigh in too, because the question is a good jumping off point for me to explain my general feelings as I’ve followed this whole discussion.

    I’m having a hard time engaging on the discussion about justification, mostly because I don’t have a typical protestant view of justification, and I’m actually not sure if any of us have the same understanding of the term.

    I suppose that most people understand justification to mean that we are either made or declared (i.e. in a legal sense) righteous before God. My fundamental problem with that, as I stated above in my comment to David, is that we are manifestly not made righteous yet. We still sin.

    Thus, one of three things is true: Either:

    1) we have a misunderstanding of the meaning of justification, or
    2) God lies when he says we are righteous, or
    3) David is right and there is some sense in which justification is prophetic.

    Personally, I do not think justification is a legal issue at all. It is something…else…yet I’m not sure in my own mind exactly how to define justification. Personally, though, I think David might be on to something in his idea of justification as prophetic. I doubt that completely explains justification, but it might reflect some truth.

    Again, thanks to all for the good questions and good discussion!

  • 33. The Reformed Pastor  |  December 31, 2007 at 12:40 pm


    Faith is shown for what it is by works. True faith will produce works. it is not that works are a part of faith. they come from faith. Yet faith will have works come form it. Hopefully I am making sense. by vindication i mean that faith is shown for what it is by works. True faith. thus We are true Christians if we have works.


    Correct! we are not MADE righteous. We are DECLARED righteous. There is a big difference. God did not take all the sin from us. But instead of looking at our sins, he looks at the perfect righteousness of Christ. He imparts Christ’s righteousness to us and see us are righteous and holy in his sight. Now, there is still sin in us. Without a doubt! But God is not looking at the sin still in us, he is looking at the righteousness of Christ. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.(1 John 2:1-2)

  • 34. Stephen  |  January 1, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Reformed Pastor:
    For the record, I have nothing against Reformed theology. One of my favourite writers is Walter Brueggemann, who stands within the Reformed stream — albeit, not as an evangelical.

    And you misconstrued my use of the word “dogmatic”. Dogma has a perfectly neutral, descriptive definition:

    “The established belief or doctrine held by a religion, ideology or any kind of organization, thought to be authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted or diverged from. While in the context of religion the term is largely descriptive, outside of religion its current usage tends to carry a pejorative connotation.”

    In your position on justification, you’re writing from a dogmatic Reformed perspective. No insult intended, just a statement of fact.

    You entered the dialogue as one who is qualified to teach others, and you self-identify as a pastor. Accordingly, I have felt free to use theological jargon with you: but apparently you’re not hearing it as theological language.

    Finally, if you’re interested in some material on the NPP, you should consider the link I recommended earlier. Doug’s five-part series in response to Piper is very clearly written, as is characteristic of him.

  • 35. The Reformed Pastor  |  January 2, 2008 at 4:06 pm


    Sorry about misunderstanding your label. But your use of it is the very first time i have seen it used, in this context, as actually describing another’s view point correctly. Most of the time it is used as the last line of the definition describes it as. So since I cannot read your facial expressions and determine from that what you may mean from a label, I took it as it is commonly used in discussions. As a negative label. So ,sorry that we misunderstood each other.

    Thanks for the link, I will look into it.

    And for future purposes, I am not a pastor yet, but I am studying and training to be one. I am presently in Bible college. My name comes form the book, The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter.

  • 36. Carl  |  February 23, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Saved from what?

    If the answer is “from condemnation at the final judgment,” of course it is in the future tense. The final judgment has not yet happened.

    If we mean “from sin” then yes, we are already saved, but we must still work to make our freedom an actual, lived experience.

  • 37. Carl  |  February 23, 2008 at 6:04 am

    Orthodox Bishop Timothy Ware is famous for saying that not only “is” he saved, he is also “being saved” and by God’s grace, he “will be saved.”

    You can Google for more info (my attempt to include a link was apparently rejected as spammy by the blog software) or see his book “How Are We Saved?: The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition” which explores many different models of salvation.

  • 38. Sam W.  |  June 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm


    Interesting point. I don’t know if you looked at the Greek for the phrase “being saved;” it’s actually in the aorist middle tense. Your conclusions are still valid, but it’s interesting to consider what Paul was saying here in that light.

    Keep up the good work!

  • 39. Gordon  |  April 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    To me, justification can be likened to a travel visa which declares that I am entitled to travel to the Promised Land. This legal document, based on my application through repentance and faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, has been graciously granted by the King and Judge of all the earth. But it has been granted conditionally. If I drift away, neglect the rules and persist in disobedience, I will not escape a just retribution (Heb 2) and will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land . If I turn away from the truth of the Gospel and commit apostasy, I become worthless and fit for burning. (Heb 6 and Heb 10). I have, so to say, to keep my visa current and valid for the Promised Land by on-going trust and faith in the Redeemer’s work for me, and by obedience to the Spirit of God. Justification of the sinner is not a once and done matter like the Atonement is. Being saved (1Cor 1:18) is an on-going experience of the grace of God. Saved, yes, but not yet !. Those who personally abide in Christ and keep faith in Him to the end, will be saved. Our God is a forgiving God if we will Remember, Repent and Re-do those things we did at first, (Rev 2:5) .


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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

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