Faith is Not a Work

Francis Turretin is our guide through the process of looking at why faith itself cannot be accepted as righteousness. In past posts we looked at his first three reasons: “(a) because what is only the instrument for receiving righteousness cannot be our righteousness itself formally…(b) Because faith is distinguished from the righteousness itself which is imputed to us, both because it is said to be “of faith” and “by faith.” (c) Because we are not justified except by a perfect righteousness. This time we will look at (d) given below.

“If faith is counted for righteousness, we will be justified by works because thus faith cannot but have the relation of a work which justifies. And yet it is clear that in this business Paul always opposes faith to works as incompatible (asystata) and two antagonistic (antidieremena) means by which man is justified either by his own obedience and in himself, by the law, or by another’s obedience by the gospel. Nor does the difference between these modes of justification consist in this-that in the former a perfect obedience and in the latter an imperfect is accepted of God as perfect, since the mode of justification would be always the same-by works. Rather the difference consists in this-that since in both cases a perfect righteousness is required, in the former from the strictness (akribodikaio) of the law God demands a personal righteousness, here from the forbearance (epieikeia) of the gospel he admits another’s (to wit, the righteousness of Christ). Thus faith cannot be said to justify properly and by itself unless we slide back to the old covenant and return to legal justification.”

For many in our day this description by Turretin should strike home. There are many within the ranks of the Reformed and of all theological stripes that make faith out in some way to have a relation to works in terms of justification. But if faith does something other than receive righteousness by grace, then it is doing a work that in some way obtains righteousness because of that work. When faith is something other than an instrument which the Holy Spirit works in and through for the sinner to receive grace, it is destructive to the Gospel of grace alone. If justification is by grace alone, then the faith that is used in justification cannot be a work or it will not be grace alone. Interesting enough, it would also then not be by faith alone because if we make faith to be a work and then attach a work to the righteousness of Christ, we are left with Christ plus faith which is a work. If faith is said to be our righteousness itself, it becomes a work and overthrows justification by faith alone.

Turretin points out that if faith is counted for righteousness, it is inevitable and of necessity (his exact words: “cannot but have”) that justification will be by works. Whenever Paul uses the language of justified by faith and not by works, the idea of faith as a work would be included in that language. Romans 4:4-6 sets the basic concept out perfectly: “Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.” Verse 4 teaches us that if we work for salvation, then what is received in return for that work is not a favor or grace, but it is due to the person that did the work. Applying Turretin’s thought to this, if faith is a work for righteousness, then salvation comes by a work and makes salvation by grace alone incompatible with the work of faith.

Verse 5 tells us clearly that faith is not a work. Indeed one must believe in God who justifies the ungodly, and it is also true that faith is credited as righteousness. This thought is used several times in the Bible. What we must do, however, is consider whether faith is considered as righteousness in and of itself or because of the fact that the one that has faith has Christ as its object of faith. If faith is considered as righteousness in and of itself, then salvation is credited as what is due to the one who has faith. That makes faith to be a work and a work that ends up justifying the sinner. But we know that verse 5 is not talking about faith as a work of justification because verse 6 speaks of the blessing to the man that “God credits righteousness apart from works.” This tells us for certain that God reckons/credits/imputes righteousness in a way that is not a work. Faith cannot be a work or Paul is utterly inconsistent with the Scriptures that he wrote. God will never be satisfied with anything less than a perfect righteousness and the only perfect righteousness available is the righteousness of Christ. He only gives His righteousness as a gift of grace. We receive Christ and His righteousness by faith, but we cannot take it or earn it by the work of faith. As Turretin says, and this should shock people who hold to these things back to their biblical senses, to hold that faith is a work is to return to legal justification. Paul fought against that mightily.

One Response to “Faith is Not a Work”

  1. michael Says:

    As I read this one, I thought of this verse:

    Luk 1:45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

    Again, the saying, “the law says, do this, and it is never done; the Gospel says, believe this and it is finished”!

    What is the definition of Faith according to Jesus?

    Here is, in my opinion, the best way Jesus defined “FAITH”:::>

    Joh 20:26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
    Joh 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
    Joh 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
    Joh 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

    Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen! Faith is not a work we can do, see or control.

    I was just at the Turrentinfan blog and there was a most remarkable response to TF’s article on Theonomy. If I might I would quote the reader’s response, which is quite telling just what exactly is the problem here.

    The responder wrote this: [[theonomists are stupid. you gonna put people to death for wearing wool and linen together, you Judaizing freak?]]

    Yes, that’s it in a nut shell. He has a “Thomas” problem and when he reads the “Old” law through the lens of the “old man”, what would you expect his response to be?

    Without Godly intervention, there is no Salvation, period.

    I used to “try” and save people by telling them about sin and judgment and hell and identify them as sinful and all they needed to do was “repent” to be saved. It really never worked. Occasionally someone, [who God was already speaking too], would respond to my pleas and manipulations. Those “conversions” always seemed to reinforce my belief system, which I now realize is a “misbelief” system. Inadvertantly as I was “doing” the good work of bringing this Gospel of the Kingdom forth, you know, because I am not ashamed to openly and in public tell people about Jesus, I was deceiving myself thinking I just scored again with God so surely He will bless me and keep me from all harm and dangers. What a lie my good works tell!

    Turretin, I suppose, wasn’t one of James Arminius’ resources that he availed himself to seeing Arminianism is a very subtle form of “works” by means of which one is obtaining righteousness with God.

    I am glad God’s solution to all pollution is not works righteousness but absolution through the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus did say:

    Luk 22:19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

    We do ourselves and others a favor by just proclaiming the Gospel and let the Gospel bear it’s own fruit.

    Paul the Apostle said it best in my view when he wrote this:

    Col 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
    Col 1:4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,
    Col 1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,
    Col 1:6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing–as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,
    Col 1:7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf
    Col 1:8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

    Do you see verse 6? Apparently the Gospel bears its own fruit! 🙂

    We ought then too just tell it like it is, as we learned Epaphras told it as a beloved fellow servant of God letting the Gospel do its own work and bear its own fruit!

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