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Friday, April 06, 2007

Book Review - Faith Works

This past week I spent two days on a lonely golf course with a team from one of the local High Schools. I drove the bus for them. These are usually long days. Leave at about 6:00 am and return usually in time to do my pm route. So I have anywhere from six to seven hours to occupy. I nearly always take some things to work on and some reading material. The two days this past week allowed me to start and finish the book entitled, Faith Works: The Gospel According To The Apostles. The author is John F. MacArthur, Jr. He is a well-known radio preacher and prolific author.

This book which comes in at 212 pages not counting three appendixes is apparently a sequel he wrote a few years back entitled, The Gospel According To Jesus. Apparently that book created quite a stir and attracted a good deal of attention from those who disagreed with the views presented therein.

The controversy is what has become known as the Lordship controversy. I think in its most simple state it is the difference between those who contend that you can accept Christ as Saviour and not as Lord and those who would argue that you must accept the whole Christ, Saviour and Lord. I would be aligned with the latter and this is the position that MacAuthur sets himself to defend. He does an admirable job with a broad subject in a relatively short space.

The controversy is argued in several areas.

One area where the arguments play out is repentance and whether it is a requirement for salvation. I honestly do not understand how there can be any controversy over this matter. The Bible is abundantly clear, it seems to me, that "except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." This is not an isolated truth. From beginning to end the unbeliever is challenged to repent, to turn from his wicked ways. Clearly though with the topic at hand this becomes a central battle ground. Of course much of the controversy swirls around how one defines repentance.

Another area of controversy and this is a big one is whether a believer will necessarily have good works. In fact this seems to be the center of the debate. Again, I find it difficult that one could read the New Testament and come to any conclusion other than salvation results in a changed life. MacAuther argues this point forcefully and with what seems to be compelling logic rooted in Scriptural truth. Apparently those who oppose his view contend that a person can be saved and never have any fruit that can be seen, that in fact one can turn completely away from Christ and yet be saved. This particular view seems to be the more extreme portion of those who hold the opposing view. Those who embrace the opposing view argue that to conclude that all true believers will have works is introducing works to salvation. But as MacAuther rightly points out we do not argue that works in any way produce salvation but rather that salvation most certainly will produce works. If it does not produce works it is not the faith that saves.

This raises another issue of serious contention in this debate. The meaning of faith. MacAuther spends a whole chapter defining and explaining faith. He raises several interesting points that are worthy of consideration. Again the point of contention seems to be that MacAuther is arguing that if a person has the kind of faith the Bible speaks of then they will have a changed life. Those who oppose his view appear to be arguing for the fact that one can have the kind of faith of which the Bible speaks and their life not be changed (ever) in any noticeable manner.

Another issues that invariably arises in this debate is the believer's relationship to sin. It is obvious that true believers have the capacity to commit any sin, but MacAuther argues, I believe correctly, that the general direction of the believer will be toward righteousness. There is a big difference between falling into sin and running to sin. There is a big difference between relishing sin and abhorring sin where ever we find it. The view being confronted in this book apparently believes that believers can embrace sin and seek after it and still have confidence that they are saved.

Of course this raises the question of grace becoming license. A whole chapter is devoted to this area of the debate.

Then of course the issue of the eternal security of the believer becomes part and parcel of the debate.

The book is actually a very good treatment of the subject especially if you agree with MacAuther's position. If you don't and you enjoy reading the opposition you should find his views challenging.

There were two things that hinder my ability to enjoy the book completely and without reservation. In this book MacAuther's Calvinism takes a prominent role especially in the early part of the book but it is sprinkled throughout. Like so many Calvinists he seems at times to be conflicted with his own positions. I caught him on a couple of occasions stating Calvinist doctrine and then seeming to explain why he did not mean what it sounded like. Calvinists seem to often find themselves on the horns of a dilemma.

Another thing that was difficult to get past was his use of New American Standard Bible. MacAuther uses a lot of Scripture to buttress his views which I genuinely appreciate but would appreciate even more if he would use the text translated from the Textus Recptus. I genuinely tired of reading the scripture he quoted and in fact found my self skipping that part since I had an idea of what the passage said anyhow. On a few occasions he referenced the King James Bible and that along with my familiarity with the King James reminded me over and over again of its superior ability to make a point.

In essence it was a well-reasoned and thoroughly Biblical apologetic for those that believe one must repent to be saved and that once saved an individual's life will be changed. I regret the strong overtones of Calvinism and the use of an inferior Bible text. It was only these two things that made the book difficult to read, but it did hinder me.


"But commitment to Christ does mean that obedience rather than disobedience will be our distinguishing trait."

"Grace that does not effect one's behaviour is not the grace of God."

". . . faith presupposes repentance. How can those who are mortal enemies of God sincerely believe in his Son without repenting?"

"We obey because we are committed to the object of our faith."

"B. B. Warfield, noting that trust compromises some element of commitment to is object, wrote, 'We cannot be said to believe that which we distrust too much to commit ourselves to it.'"

"Saving faith, then, is the whole of my being embracing all of Christ. Faith cannot be divorced from commitment."

"The call of the gospel is to trust Him. That necessarily involves some degree of live, allegiance, and surrender to His authority."

"Faith itself is complete before one work of obedience ever issues forth."

"But make no mistake - real faith will always produce righteous works."

"The state of one's heart will inevitably be revealed by its fruit."

"To say that works are a necessary result of faith is not the same as making works a condition for justification."

"Faith works are a consequence of faith, not a component of faith."

"No good works can earn salvation, but many good works result from genuine salvation. Good works are not necessary to become a disciple, but good works are the necessary marks of all true believers."

"Repentance is not just a change of mind; it is a change of heart."

"Faith is never said to be the ground for justification, only the channel through which justifying grace is received."

". . . no one who lives in perpetually lives in conscious and purposeful rebellion against him can truly claim to trust him."

"At justification we surrender the principle of sin and self-rule. In sanctification we relinquish the practice of specific sins as we mature in Christ."

"It means that when we trust Christ for salvation we settle the issue of who is in charge."

"The life that is void of holiness has no claim to justification."

"Grace does not mean we have permission to do as we please; it means we have the power to do what pleases God."

"Real Christians cannot endure perpetually sinful living."

"A predilection for such sins reflects an unregenerate heart."

"If these people are true children of God, why are they not constantly under His discipline?"

"The closer we get to God the more we see our own sins."

"A person who has not lost any of his appetite for sin - and acquired instead a hunger for the things of God - has not been truly converted. 'What are our tastes and choices and likings and inclinations? This is the great testing question.'"

"Both James and Paul view food works as the proof of faith - not the path to salvation."

"Scripture encourages true believers with the promise of full assurance, while making false professors uncomfortable by seeking to destroy their false sense of security."

"True Christians love Christ."

book rating **
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