My wife and I were recently introduced to a book called “The Naked Gospel,” written by Andrew Farley.
The first thing I do when I hear about a biblical book or author is to deteermine where they stand on the gospel. If someone gets the gospel wrong, I am not interested any of their biblical teaching.
Unfortunately, Farley clothes a false gospel of works under the clever guise of grace. Nowhere is this more telling than in his section called “Looking for Evidence” (pages 197-199).
Farley spends close to 200 pages beguiling the reader with personal yarns and anecdotes, mixed with some scripture, before finally coming to his false gospel.
Following are extensive excerpts, with my comments (interspersed, parenthetically, in bold):
James 2 clearly says we’re justified by works too, not by faith alone. To dance around this passage by saying it refers to works after salvation is faulty. The passage specifically asks, “Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14). In addition, it repeatedly addresses being justified before God, a status that occurs at salvation. Without a doubt, James says we’re justified by works and not by faith alone. But, the important question is: What does James mean by works?
(James 2 NEVER says that one is justified before God by works. Farley has simply invented this into scripture. Romans 4:2 gives the real story: For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.)
I believe the key to understanding this passage is to avoid bringing our twenty-first century mind-set to the table, especially with regard to the term works. Rather than assuming that works should be understood as a life-long record of religious activity, one should consult the biblical text and let the writer himself define the term. James own use of the term works is quite different from how we use it today.
(Nonsense. “It depends what the definition of is is”).
James explains that even the demons can believe the basics of Christianity – that there is one God, and so forth (2:19). He shows us the difference between nodding with your head with dead faith versus expressing living faith. The purpose of the passage is to communicate that faith without decision or response is dead faith.
(There is no “…and so forth.” Again, Farley has fabricated scripture. James 2:19: Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.)
James uses two Old Testament examples, Rahab and Abraham, to explain justification by works. Both characters actively responded to God’s message. They didn’t sit back passively and claim they believed God. Rahab decided to open her door to the spies (Joshua 2:1), and Abraham chose to offer his son on the altar (Genesis 22:3). They went beyond mere intellectual assent and did something in response to God’s message.
(Neither Abraham, nor Rahab, receieved eternal life by these acts. They were not justified before God for these acts. Nor does this imply that good works are automatic in the life of a believer. Rahab and Abraham were faithful when their faith was tested. James is using their examples to exhort the BELIEVERS to whom he is writing to an active faith).
But, how many times did Rahab open the door? Once. And how many times did Abraham hoist his son Isaac on the altar? Once. Hence, works in this passage is really not about a lifelong track record of good behavior. It’s actually about the importance of responding to the truth – an act that goes beyond mere intellectual agreement. James 2 might be summarized by the following train of thought:
- We’re justified by works (but works needs to be defined in context).
- Works are like what Rahab and Abraham did.
- Living faith involves opening a door (of your life) – a work.
- Living faith involves offering someone (yourself) – a work.
- So living faith involves decision – a work.
- Any faith without decision is just dead faith.
(So, Mr. Farley, we’re not saved by works, but by a single work that proves our faith? Would I have to be willing to kill my son to receive the free gift of eternal life? Do I have to be willing to let Jesus come in and change my life? Or, would some other work of righteousness be acceptable to God to prove I wasn’t exercising mere intellectual assent?)
James 2 communicates that personal decision is necessary in order for true salvation to occur. Those who appear to fall away from belief in Jesus are those who merely associated themselves with certain doctrines for whatever reason. They may abandon Christianity the movement. They may abandon Christians, sometimes accompanied by personal resentment. But, they don’t abandon Christ, since they never knew Him. Ascribing to certain doctrines is one thing, but opening the door of your life and receiving the life of Christ is altogether different.
(Farley has cleverly redefined decision to include WORKS. One receives eternal life by believing in Jesus as his Savior. The content of that belief is that Christ – God our Savior – died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead. As soon as one believes that Jesus’ death and resurrection were sufficient to take away his sin and give him everlasting life, he is saved.
In addition, the parable of the sower teaches that some believe only for a while. Farley seems to have re-written this part of scripture as well.)
Once James 2 is seen in context, it doesn’t conflict with Romans or any other faith-centered passage. We need to recognized that this passage in James does not seem to be referring to a post-salvation experience. It’s specifically addressing the question, “Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14). From there we must grasp James’s own use of the term works by consulting the examples he gives. James’s purpose is to contrast mere intellectual agreement with active, saving faith that involves receiving the life of Christ. When Christ stood at the door and knocked, did you respond by opening the door, as Rahab did? If so, I think you’ve met the requirement of this historically controversial faith-works passage.
James 2 is not inviting us to introspect and assess our long-tem track-record of good works; in context, it appears to be contrasting dead faith (intellectual assertion only) with living faith (true conviction followed by decision).
We must never forget that truth is supposed to set us free!
(We receive the life of Christ when we believe the gospel. We do not have to “open the door” or any other such nonsense.
Yes, the truth is supposed to set us free. The truth starts with the gospel. If one thinks that he must do works (or make a decision), as defined by Farley, to receive eternal life, he does not believe the gospel.)