Friday, February 7, 2014

The Relationship Between Faith, Obedience, and Grace

Salvation by faith is one of the cornerstone's of Christian faith. In the Scriptures it is not emphasized by anyone more than the Apostle Paul. Paul did this because of his many contentions with legalistic Jewish believers (most from the sect of the Pharisees). Salvation by faith is also one of the most misunderstood aspects of Christian doctrine, especially when it is not interpreted correctly with it's relationship to obedience and grace, which can (and most likely will) effect how the believer lives his wife.

The Biblical definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1. "Now faith is the persuasion of the things that are in hope, as if they were in act; and [it is] the manifestness of the things not seen." The author of Hebrews then goes on to discuss the results that faith brought forth in the lives of the Old Testament saints. Here are two of the author's examples:

"By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than that of Cain; and on account of it, he is testified of that he was righteous, and God bore testimony to his offering; and in consequence thereof, though dead he yet speaketh. By faith, Enoch was translated, and did not taste death; and he was not found, because God had translated him: for, before he translated him, there was testimony of him, that he pleased God."- Hebrews 11:4-5

The author then says in Hebrews 11:6, "But, without faith, a man cannot please God. For he that draweth near to God, must believe his existence, and that he will recompense those who seek him.

Now let's go beyond the English translation of what we've read so far. My focus here is Hebrew 11:1, so I'll be merciful and only break this one down:

Aramaic for "faith" is hemanuta (ܗܰܝܡܳܢܽܘܬ݂ܳܐ). This word represents a gift from God that gives assurance that what He says is true. Paul says that God gave us faith in Romans 12:3: "And, by the grace given to me, I say to you all: Do not carry thoughts, beyond what ye ought to think; but think with modesty, as God hath distributed to each one his measure of faith."

"Persuasion" in Aramaic is payasa (ܦ݁ܝܳܣܳܐ). Dukhrana defines this as, "Compliance, persuasion, assurance, persuasiveness". It could also be translated as "substance". This is also a "conviction" that what God says is true. 

"Manifestness" in Aramaic is gelyana (ܓ݂ܶܠܝܳܢܳܐ). This is the word from which "Galilee" is derived. It is defined by Dukhrana as "manifestation, revelation, assurance". This is a paradox, as "manifestation" implies that this thing is seen, but the author then says that it is the "manifestness" of the things that are unseen. Faith allows us to see results through spiritual sight and not always through the eyes of the flesh. The word gelyana can also be translated as "evidence". Faith does not require evidence because faith is the evidence.

Considering the fact that the author of Hebrews gives examples of the results of faith, this shows that true faith is not just believing what is said by God, but also responding to it. James 1:19-25 says, "And be ye, my beloved brethren, every one of you, swift to hear, and slow to speak, and slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore, remove far from you all impurity, and the abundance of wickedness; and, with meekness, receive the word that is implanted in our nature, which is able to vivify these your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only' and do not deceive yourselves. For if any man shall be a hearer of the word, and not a doer of it, he will be like one who seeth his face in a mirror: for he seeth himself, and passeth on, and forgetteth what a man he was. But every one that looketh upon the perfect law of liberty and abideth in it, it nos a hearer of something to be forgotten, but a doer of the things; and he will be blessed in his work." In James 4:17, James says, "He that knoweth the good, and doeth it not, to him is sin."

This is an echo back to what Jesus said in Matthew 7:24-27. "Every one therefore that heareth these my discourses, and doeth them, will be like to a wise man, one that built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew; and they rushed upon that house; and it fell not, for its foundations were laid upon a rock. And every one that heareth these my discourses and, and doeth them not, will be like a foolish man that built his house upon sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew; and they rushed upon that house, and it fell; and great was the ruin of it."


In James 2:14-26, the apostle tells us how you can tell if a person truly has faith. "What is the use, my brethren, if a man say, I have faith; and he hath no works? Can his faith vivify him? Or if a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say to them, Go in peace, warm yourselves, and be full; and ye give them not the necessaries of the body, what is the use? So also faith alone, without works, is dead. For a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; show to me thy faith that is without works; and I will show to thee, my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou dost well; the demons also believe, and tremble. Wouldst thou know, O frail man, that faith without works is dead? Abraham our father, was not he justified by works, in offering his son Isaac upon the altar? Seest thou, that his faith aided his works, and that by the works his faith was rendered complete? And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith: Abraham believed in God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, and he was called the Friend of God. Thou seest, that by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone. So also Rahab, the harlot, was not she justified by works, when she entertained the spies, and sent them forth by another way? As the body without the spirit, is dead; so faith without works, is dead also."

In Romans 4, Paul teaches the same thing about Abraham (using different terminology). "What then shall we say concerning Abraham the patriarch, that by the flesh he obtained? But if Abraham was justified by works, he had [ground of] glorying; yet not before God. For what saith the scripture? That Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. But to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but as a debt to him. Whereas, to him that worketh not, but only believeth in him that justifieth sinners, his faith is accounted to him for righteousness. As David also speaketh of the blessedness of the man, to whom God reckoneth righteousness without works, saying: Blessed are they, whose iniquity is forgiven, and whose sins are covered up: and, Blessed is the man, to whom God will not reckon his sin. This blessedness, therefore, is it on the circumcision ? or on the uncircumcision? For we say, that Abraham's faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him ? In circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. For he received circumcision, as the sign and the seal of the righteousness of his faith while in uncircumcision: that he might become the father of all them of the uncircumcision who believe; and that it might be reckoned to them also for righteousness: and the father of the circumcision; not to them only who are of the circumcision, but to them also who fulfill the steps of the faith of our father Abraham in [his] uncircumcision. For the promise to Abraham and to his seed, that he should become the heir of the world, was not by the law, but by the righteousness of his faith. For if they who are of the law were heirs, faith would be made void, and the promise of no force. For the law is a worker of wrath; because where no law is, there is no transgression of law. Wherefore, it is by the faith which is by grace, that we are justified: so that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but also to that which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all: as it is written: " I have constituted thee a father to a multitude of nations ;" [namely] before God, in whom thou hast believed; who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which are not, as if they were. And without hope, he confided in the hope of becoming the father of a multitude of nations; (as it is written: So will thy seed be.) And he was not sickly in his faith, while contemplating his inert body, (for he was a hundred years old,) and the inert womb of Sarah. And he did not hesitate at the promise of God, as one lacking faith; but he was strong in faith, and gave glory to God; and felt assured, that what God had promised to him, he was able to fulfill. And therefore it was accounted to him for righteousness. And not for his sake alone, was it written, that his faith was accounted for righteousness; but for our sakes also; because it is to be accounted [so] to us, who believe in him that raised our Lord Jesus Messiah from the dead; who was delivered up, on account of our sins; and arose, that he might justify us."

In Ephesians 2:8-10, Paul talks about salvation by faith again. "For it is by his grace we are rescued, through faith; and this is not of yourselves, but it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any one glory. For we are his creation; who are created in Jesus the Messiah, for good works, which God hath before prepared for us to walk in."

Paul also teaches that faith brings forth works. In Galatians 5:19-22, he distinguishes the sinful works of the flesh from the holy fruits of the Spirit. "For the works of the flesh are known, which are whoredom, impurity, lasciviousness, idol-worship, magic, malice, contention, rivalry, wrath, strife, divisions, discords, envy, murder, drunkenness, revelling, and all the like things. And they who perpetrate these things, as I have before told you, and also now tell you, do not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruits of the Spirit are, love, joy, peace, long suffering, suavity, kindness, fidelity, modesty, patience.

According to the teachings of the Apostles, faith brings forth good works. Obedience is a sign of true faith and love for God. The writings of the Apostle John also show obedience to the words of Christ as evidence of true faith and love. John 14:22-24 says, "Judas, not Iscariot, said to him: My Lord, how is it that thou art to manifest thyself to us, and not to the world? Jesus answered, and said to him: He that loveth me, observeth my instruction; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him. But he that loveth me not, observeth not my instruction. And the instruction which ye hear, is not mine, but the Father's who sent me."

In John 15:1-10, Jesus gives another parable relating to the works of the believer. "I am the true vine; and my Father is the cultivator. Every branch in me, which yieldeth not fruits, he taketh it away: and that which yieldeth fruits, he cleanseth it, that it may yield more fruits. Ye henceforth are clean, on account of the discourse I have held with you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot yield fruits of itself, unless it abide in the vine; so also, neither can ye, unless ye abide in me. I am the vine, and ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in me, and I in him, he yieldeth much fruit; for without me, ye can do nothing. And if a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a withered branch; and they gather it up, and cast it into the fire to be burned. But if ye shall abide in me, and my instructions shall abide in you, whatever ye shall be pleased to ask, it will be given to you. In this is the Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and ye will be my disciples. As my Father hath loved me, I also have loved you: abide ye in the love of me. If ye shall keep my commands, ye will abide in the love of me, as I have kept the commands of my Father, and abide in his love."

The Aramaic word for "fruit" is pera (ܦܐܪܐ). This word is also used in Matthew 7:15-23. "Beware of false prophets; who come to you in the garb of sheep, but internally they are rapacious wolves. And from their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes; or figs from thistles? So every good tree beareth good fruits; but a bad tree beareth bad fruits. A good tree cannot bear bad fruits; nor can a bad tree bear good fruits. Every tree that beareth not good fruits, is cut down and consigned to the fire. Wherefore, by their fruits you shall know them. Not whoever may say to me, My Lord, my Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, My Lord, my Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name cast out demons? And in thy name wrought many works of power? And then I will declare to them; I never knew you. Depart from me, ye doers of evil."

In the passage from John 15, Jesus states we cannot bear fruit unless we abide in him. Without Christ in our lives, we are unable to do any good in this world. Only by the grace of His Spirit are we able to do anything truly productive. We abide in Christ through faith, and this faith brings for fruit. In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist says, "Bring forth the fruits therefore, that accord with repentance." John's Gospel clearly does not teach salvation by works either, as he also emphasizes salvation through faith (John 3:16, for example). If you read I John (written by the same John who wrote the fourth Gospel), he still tells us to examine ourselves and others in order to tell whether or not we/they walk in the Light of God in Christ or in the darkness of sin.

Now what is grace? Grace is a word that has many meanings. One of these meanings is "unmerited favor", but that is not all that grace is. Grace is also defined as, "Divine influence upon the heart, and it's reflection in the life." John 1:14 says, "And the Word became flesh, and tabernacled with us: and we saw his glory, a glory as of the only begotten from the Father, that he was full of grace and truth." Jesus did not have "unmerited favor", the favor of God upon Jesus Christ His Son was very merited because He obeyed the Father in all things. Jesus has the divine influence on the heart and it's reflection in the way He lives. 

Paul discusses what grace does in II Corinthians 12:7-10. "And, that I might not be uplifted by the excellency of the revelations, there was imparted to me a thorn in my flesh, the angel of Satan, to buffet me, that I might not be uplifted. Respecting this, I thrice besought my Lord, that it might depart from me. And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is perfected in weakness. Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of the Messiah may rest upon me. Therefore I have pleasure in infirmities, in reproach, in afflictions, in persecutions, in distresses, which are for the Messiah's sake: when I am weak, then am I strong."

Jesus's statement "My grace is sufficient for you," does not make sense if it is understood only as unmerited favor. Jesus says right after that, "My power is perfected in weakness." So the grace of God is the power of Christ shown in the life of the believer. It is the divine enabler. By grace, Paul (therefore all Christians) are able to endure and overcome. Later, in Titus 2:11-14 says, "For the all-vivifying grace of God, is revealed to all men; and it teacheth us, to deny ungodliness and wordly lusts, and to live in this world in sobriety, and in uprightness, and in the fear of God, looking for the blessed hope, and the manifestation of the glory of the great God, and our Life-giver, Jesus the Messiah; who gave himself for us, that he might recover us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a new people, who are zealous in good works."

Let's also examine a verse where grace is unmerited favor. Romans 3:24-26 says, "And they are justified gratuitously, by grace, and by the redemption which is in Jesus Messiah; whom God hath preconstituted a propitiation, by faith in his blood, because of our sins, which we before committed, in the space which God in his long suffering gave to us, for the manifestation of his righteousness at the present time; that he might be righteous, and might with righteousness justify him who is in the faith of our Lord Jesus Messiah." The unmerited favor of God is clearly shown in God giving His only Son on the cross that we, sinners, might have eternal life. 

We do not deserve God's power working in our lives, and we also don't deserve the favor of God. Grace, no matter which "grace" you are talking about, is always something we don't deserve. Grace is what allows us to place our faith in Christ and come to Him for salvation. In John 6:44, Jesus says, "No man can come to me, unless the Father who sent me, shall draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day."

Faith, grace, and obedience are all part of the process of salvation. True, saving faith brings forth obedience to the word of Christ, while grace is what allows us to come to God and to live according to His word. Without grace, we cannot place our faith in God or repent of our sins. Nothing we do can save us. Faith, grace, and obedience are all the result of Christ's work on the cross and the grace that He gives us. I hope this article really opened your understanding about what salvation by faith truly is. God bless!

All scriptural quotations are from James Murdock's translation of the Aramaic Peshitta.
All Aramaic definitions are from the Dukhrana Analytical Lexicon.