Special Insights No. 4
Fourth Quarter 2006
“Beginnings and Belongings”
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
Sometimes faith and works are spoken of as though they were opposite qualities which we need to hold in even proportions in order to be good Christians. Thus the term “balance” is often used as though it were a most essential Christian quality. Despite the popularity of this idea, neither the Bible nor the Spirit of Prophecy describe this type of “balance.” The root word balance only appears in the King James Version three times. And it never appears in the context of faith and works (see Isa. 40:12, Job 37:16, Dan. ). Ellen G. White does use the term “balance” in the context of a discussion of faith and works, but the message is not that we need to balance faith and works but rather they need to balance us (see Faith and Works [FW], p. 49).
From whence then comes the idea that we need a “balance” of faith and works? The Bible teaches salvation by grace, through faith apart from works (see Eph. 2:8,
This is the essence of the confusing controversy which has plagued humanity since our first parents fell and lost
Now they needed that which only God can supply, a robe of righteousness. So God came down and made them “tunics of skin” (Gen. 3:21) from the first sacrificial animals. The sacrificial animal represented Christ. The skins represented His robe of righteousness, which we have through faith to cover our nakedness. Thus we see the issue was and is clearly, righteousness by works (fig leaves) vs. righteousness by faith (tunics of skin).
That was Genesis chapter three. Lest we miss the point the message is almost immediately repeated. In chapter four we learn that Cain is a tiller of the ground and Abel is a keeper of sheep. When it comes time for sacrifice Abel presents a lamb, not because he is a keeper of sheep but because it represents the Lamb of God. But Cain decides on a not so original idea though it may seem new to the casual observer. He will present the work of his own hands. In Cain’s mind perhaps he thought Abel had done the same thing. He is a shepherd and it is appropriate for him to bring a lamb, but I am a tiller of the ground, therefore it is appropriate for me to bring the fruit of my labor. But Hebrews tells us that Abel’s motive was different. His motive was “faith” (Heb. 11:4), not dependence upon self or the work of his own hands. This was the same struggle that had been played out in the Garden of Eden, righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. God sent us the correct view in the “most precious” 1888 message.
As we read further in the scriptures the characters change but the struggle is the same. Sarah and Hagar—righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. Jacob and Esau—righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. David and Saul—righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. The long sad history of
Therefore it is imperative that we have a true concept of faith and understand its relation to good works. The servant of the Lord wrote: “The knowledge of what the Scripture means when urging upon us the necessity of cultivating faith, is more essential than any other knowledge that can be acquired” (Review and Herald, Oct. 18, 1898). A. T. Jones wrote: “In order to be able to know what the Scripture means when urging upon us the necessity of cultivating faith, it is essential to know, first of all, what is faith” (Lessons on Faith, p. 15). Later he answers that “essential” question: “Faith is the expecting the word of God to do what it says, and the depending upon that word to do what it says” (ibid., p. 16). If faith is depending on the word to do what it says (i.e., work), and God has said His word shall not return to Him void but accomplish what He pleases, then clearly faith (depending on the word) will produce good works. In other words, faith works.
Thus we see that the Bible does not teach that faith and works are antithetical or opposing elements that need to be kept in “balance.” The Bible teaches that it is “faith which works by love” (Gal. 5:6). The Bible teaches that good works are an essential element of faith. James asks, “Do you see that faith was working ... ?” And again James tells us that “by works faith [is] made perfect” (i.e., complete, James ). Thus we should not see faith and works as two different elements that need to be “balanced.” Rather we should understand that true faith works if it exists at all. To separate faith from works and suggest that we need two rather than one element, albeit in “balance,” is to unwittingly embrace the counterfeit means of salvation, righteousness by works.
What we need is “faith which works.” It will balance us. We need not balance it.
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