Most serious Christian thinkers consider Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) one of the greatest Evangelicals in church history. Justification by faith alone dominated his writing. Yet, in their new book The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, the authors note, “Edwards…warned that ‘a man is not justified by faith only, but also by works,’ when works are understood as the proper ‘acts or expressions of faith.'” (McClymond and McDermott, pg 29). In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus makes the same point. Listen carefully…
The bottom line is this. Doing the will of God matters. Before we discuss why it matters, I want to define what it means to do the will of God. Negatively, it does not mean perfection.
Positively, it means a life of active surrender to the Lordship of Christ. It means that you have seated Christ on the throne of your life. It means, when the Holy Spirit brings conviction, an increasing pattern of obedience follows. It means an increasing desire to confess sin and admit error. It involves the daily renunciation of all rights and a growing longing to pay any price to obey the Holy Spirit.
Abraham lied about his wife to Pharaoh and Abimelech. He slept with Hagar. Yet, the Bible considers him a man who did the will of God.
David was an adulterer and murderer, but the Bible describes him as a man who was a doer of God’s word.
Although doing the will of God does not mean perfection, this text tells us that doing God’s Will matters because Heaven and Hell hang in the balance.
You might object. Is Jesus saying that works save? Doesn’t Jesus know that we are justified by faith alone?
Yes, we are justified by faith alone, a faith that clothes us in Christ’s righteousness without which no one will see God. But Jesus’ point is this: Saving faith is never alone. Practical holiness always follow. That is true for several reasons.
First, works follow faith because the faith that flows from New Birth involves a heart transplant. This heart transplant is the righteousness that Jesus seeks. It is the righteousness that the Pharisees lacked. It is the righteousness promised by the prophets to all New Testament believers.
When God writes His law on our hearts we begin to change. Why? Because that is the purpose of our salvation, and God does not save us aimlessly.
Therefore, we should not be surprised when James tells us that we cannot separate faith and works. James does not contradict Paul’s emphasis on justification by faith alone. Rather, James tells us that our works testify to our faith.
Second, works always follow saving faith because saving faith is a growing “conviction” about the truths believed. (Heb 11:1) “Faith is the conviction of things not seen.”
This conviction comes by a transfer of facts from head to heart. Saving faith enthrones itself in the heart, not the head. (Rom 10:10) “For with the heart one believes and is justified.”
Their conviction of faith motivates action. In the same way, everyone acts from their convictions.
If I stand up in a crowded theatre and yell, “Fire” you will respond based upon your conviction that I know what I am talking about.
Saving faith is the same way. It is like a sword with two edges. It increasingly believes from the heart (with conviction) in both the threats and promises that litter scripture. Action always follows this conviction. For example, what level of conviction do you feel about Mat 13:41-42?
In the same way, those who have a conviction about God’s promised rewards act. True faith increasingly counts the loss of everything to be most trivial compared to the value of gaining Christ.
So this is why James says that our deeds justify us. They don’t earn Heaven. Rather, they point to the existence of saving faith. In the same way, on the Day of Judgment, God will look to our works to prove our faith.
(Re 20:11-12) “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”
In Conclusion, changing desires, convictions, longings, and behaviors are our most powerful assurances that God has given us New Birth.