Good Morning Brothers…
I seem to have a natural adversity to “Labels”. I don’t know why this is…it just is. I enjoy bowhunting in the fall for white-tails, yet, I don’t consider myself a “Bowhunter”. This label, this title, conjures up images of the completely sold-out 100% dedicated radical hunter…who is adverse to using a rifle because of the perceived ease at which the animal can be harvested. In other words, rifle hunters are less of a hunter…than a bowhunter. Really…we are willing to let this argument divide two groups of people who both love to hunt deer? I use a bow for completely different reasons. The ground I hunt is not applicable to rifle hunting because of the proximity of houses and people. I also love the quietness of the bow…and the fact that bow season lasts for 3 1/2 months…not 10 days like rifle season. The extra time puts me in the woods longer, surrounded by more quiet time…time I spend reading and studying God’s Holy Word. Once hunting becomes competition, once my choice in a weapon becomes about “labels” and “titles” designed to separate us…I’m out. My “label” will become “former hunter”.
A “Label” is intended to explain…and restrict. When you and I buy a product from the store, we read the label which explains to us “what is inside”….and “what isn’t inside”. This is very helpful when choosing a product intended to perform a function. Labels, when applied to groups of people, are intended to identify and separate. We become “identified” with those of a like mind…and “separated” from those of the opposite mind. Left unchecked…these divisions and labels become more fractured and more widespread. Think about our political parties for instance, within the main parties (or labels), there are further sub-divisions with additional labels which continue to divide the overall parties into something….divisive. All of these parties (labels) communicate that they have a common goal…yet their practice is anything but cooperative.
I realize that I am labeled by my choices. Yet, my choices are not dictated by the labels they bring. For instance, I worship in a Protestant church. This label is applied to me. To be a Protestant means I am protesting something. What am I protesting…? I’m told that I’m protesting theological views which are held by the Catholic Church. OK…which ones?
Definition of Protestant: a member of any of several church denominations denying the universal authority of the Pope and affirming the Reformation principles of justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the primacy of the Bible as the only source of revealed truth; broadly : a Christian not of a Catholic or Eastern church
Oh…well that clears it up. Wait a minute, let me reread that….”justification by faith alone”…? Do I believe that…?
Romans 3:27-28 says, “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
Romans 4:1-3 says, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Galatians 3:2 says, “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”
I know I received the Spirit by hearing, not by my works, am I saved. Hold on…let me read these again…”justified by faith apart from works of the Law”…”did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law?”…no…I was never under the Law. I am a child of the New Covenant, therefore, I am not under the Law (the Old Covenant). Even if justification by works under the Law was possible, it wouldn’t apply to any of us.
James 2:17-26 says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”
OK…this is where confusion starts to set in. We know that all scripture is inspired and useful for teaching…but what do we do with verses that seem to contradict. We must rectify them to find the truth. James says that faith is dead and useless…without works. Paul says that Abraham was not justified by works…James says that Abraham was justified by works. Paul says that we are justified by faith apart from works of the Law…James says we are justified by works and not by faith alone. Furthermore…James says the demons believe…they “believe”…like I “believe”? Do the demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God…do they believe that Jesus is the Christ…? The context of the passage suggests….Yes!! Wow…ok, I need to back up a bit and think about this.
Abraham was justified by his works because it proved his faith. James says that his faith was working with his works, and as a result of his works, faith was perfected. Our good works are not because of the Law, but because of our faith, which is perfected through our works. Without works…there is no faith, rather, James says the faith is dead and useless. If something is useless, it means it is useless in the task it was designed for. Faith is designed as a means to enter into heaven. If that faith is useless…it is useless as a means of entering heaven.
Look at James 2:24 all by itself, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
I’m starting to doubt my “label”…which is why I hate labels. My weapon of choice when hunting deer is not because of the “label” associated with it…my church of choice is not because of the “label” associated with it. If I have to believe that faith alone…justifies…to be a Protestant…then apparently I’m not a Protestant. That “label” both explains…and restricts. I’m not willing to be restricted in my search for truth…in my search for righteousness…in my search for revelation. Let us all be cautious…in what “labels” we apply to ourselves…and to others.