A Review of Chapter 16 of Thomas Schreiner’s Faith Alone-The Doctrine of Justification
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament and the Associate Dean of Scripture and Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. That school strongly advocates five-point Calvinism and justification by faith alone (understood from a Calvinist perspective).
Over the past few decades the way in which Calvinists explain justification by faith alone—sola fide in Latin—has changed somewhat. While Calvinists have long spoken of true faith (i.e., faith that perseveres in obedience to the end of life), they have been reluctant to actually say that good works are necessary for justification.
In his new book, Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification,1 Schreiner freely and repeatedly says that good works are necessary for justification. In fact, Chapter 16 is entitled “The Role of Good Works in Justification” (pp. 191–206). In this article I am responding to that chapter. I have adopted Schreiner’s chapter title and his subsection titles as well. It is my contention that Schreiner, though well-intentioned, has done precisely what he claims Free Grace advocates have done:
The Free Grace interpretation looks like an expedient to defend and support one’s theology. While Scripture interprets Scripture, at the same time we must ensure that we don’t do violence to what texts say, for otherwise we are in danger of twisting the Scripture to fit our own preconceptions.2
Let’s begin where Schreiner does, with a discussion of what saving faith is and is not.
II. MENTAL ASSENT ISN’T SAVING FAITH
Schreiner defines mental assent as “bare faith,” that is, as “intellectual assent to a set of statements, doctrines, or beliefs.”3 He continues, “Ascribing to and endorsing orthodox doctrines should never be confused with genuine faith.”4
If saving faith is not mental/intellectual assent to the truth of a proposition, then it is not faith, but something else.
For example, if someone believes that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, is that “intellectual assent to a statement”? Is that “ascribing to and endorsing orthodox doctrine”? Or is it something more? Are works involved in believing that Bethlehem is the Savior’s birthplace?
Or take belief in the virgin birth. Are works involved in that faith?
Or how about belief in the deity of Christ? Must one work for a lifetime to prove that he truly believes in the deity of Christ?
Obviously I could give a million examples from Scripture. Schreiner implies, but does not actually explicitly say, that he is only talking about saving faith. But if so, that would be quite odd, would it not?
Isn’t it odd that faith in the entire Bible is always being convinced that some proposition is true, but when it comes to being born again, faith is no longer mental assent, but a lifetime of works?
Yet when the Lord asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” He is clearly only asking her to affirm what she is convinced is true. Does she believe that He guarantees everlasting life to all who simply believe in Him (John 11:26)? He is not asking about whether she loves Him (compare John 21:15–19). He is not asking whether she is persevering in good works. He is asking her if she believes what He said.
And, as Schreiner himself notes in this chapter (pp. 194, 201), in John 11:25–26b, Jesus told Martha the saving message, the promise of everlasting life. Compare John 20:30–31.
Later in the chapter Schreiner will give examples in Scripture of where he thinks that faith is something other than being persuaded. We will consider those as they occur. But here his only example is Jas 2:14–26. Oddly he does not exegete that passage. He simply makes some claims about it and then moves on.
Space does not permit a detailed discussion here. I’ve written on this elsewhere.5 However, I will make a few observations from the text:
- Demons really do believe in monotheism (Jas 2:19). That’s why they tremble.
- Since demons are not living human beings, they cannot have everlasting life even if they believe the truth of John 3:16 or John 11:26. Everlasting life is for “he who lives and believes in Me” (John 11:26). Since demons are not living human beings, they cannot be born again even if they believe that Jesus promises everlasting life to living humans who believe in Him.
- The other four uses of save (sōzō) in James (1:21; 4:12; 5:15, 20) all refer to deliverance from temporal difficulties, including premature death.
- Abraham was justified or vindicated before men when he offered up Isaac (Gen 22:1–19; Rom 4:2, “not before God”). However, more than two decades earlier he was justified or declared righteous before God when he believed God’s promise concerning the coming Messiah (Gen 15:1–6; Rom 4:3–4; Gal 3:6–14).
- Rahab was justified or vindicated before the men of Israel when she delivered the spies from the authorities in Jericho. But she was justified or declared righteous before God when she believed in Israel’s coming Messiah (see Heb 11:31 where she is contrasted with “those who did not believe,” and Rom 4:1–5).
- The expression “faith without works is dead” does not mean faith without works is not faith. Faith is faith whether it is applied or not. “What does it profit?” is the question which begins v 14 and ends v 16, the verse immediately preceding the expression, “faith without works is dead.” It is dead in the sense that it is not profitable. It does not profit the believer who is able to help the needy in his church, but chooses not to, nor does it profit that needy brother or sister.
- James 2:14–26 is contextually tied to Jas 2:1–13, where James urges fellow Christians to “not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality” (2:1). They were kowtowing to wealthy visitors, but dishonoring the poor ones (2:2–4). Yet James clearly speaks of their faith in Christ. James 2:2-4 is parallel with Jas 2:15–16.
Schreiner is aware of this interpretation and dismisses it with a few short comments. He says that those in “the Free Grace movement…have come up with a novel interpretation of James 2, for they claim that the words ‘justify’ (dikaioō) and save (sōzō) do not refer to eschatological salvation…Instead, James refers to…being saved from a life shorn of God’s blessing and power.”6
What is wrong with this interpretation?
In the first place, Schreiner misrepresents the Free Grace understanding of sōzō in Jas 2:14. We do not believe it means “being saved from a life shorn of God’s blessing and power.” It means more than that. God actively judges (i.e., curses) indolent believers: “As righteousness leads to life, so he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death” (Prov 11:19; cf. 10:6, 27, 29; 11:17, 27; 12:12; 14:11).
We hold that all five uses of sōzō in James concern temporal salvation from physical death or from events which if left unchecked will result in premature death. Compare Jas 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:15, 20.7 To be saved from premature physical death is not “being saved from a life shorn of God’s blessing and power.”
In the second place, Schreiner’s claim that all five uses of sōzō in James (and indeed in the entire NT) refer to “eschatological salvation” from eternal condemnation is completely unsupported. Tellingly, Schreiner does not back up that assertion with Biblical or lexical evidence. On the contrary, diligent readers will find that well over half of the uses of sōzō in the NT refer to deliverance from illness, physical death, or temporal difficulties. I will limit myself to twenty-one obvious uses of sōzō that contradict Schreiner’s claim:
“Lord, save us, we are perishing” (Matt 8:25, the disciples in danger of drowning).
“Lord, save me” (Matt 14:30, when Peter was walking on water, took his eyes off Jesus, and began to sink into the angry sea).
“Your faith has saved you” (Jesus’ words to many people He healed; see Matt 9:22; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42).
“Save yourself…come down from the cross” (Matt 27:40, people mocking Jesus on the cross; see also Luke 23:37, 39).
“Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him” (Matt 27:49).
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27; see also Heb 5:7).
“All hope that we would be saved was finally given up” (Acts 27:20, talking about shipwreck and drowning).
“Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31).
“The centurion, wanting to save Paul…” (Acts 27:43).
“God…saved Noah” (2 Pet 2:5, referring to the ark; see also 1 Pet 3:20).
“The Lord…saved the people out of the land of Egypt” (Jude 5, referring to physical deliverance from Egypt and slavery during the Exodus).
While the word justify is often used in the NT to refer to being declared righteous by God (e.g., Acts 13:39; Rom 3:20, 24, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; 5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:8, 11, 24; Titus 3:7), it also is used on many occasions to refer to vindication before men. Notice the following examples:
“Wisdom is justified by her children” (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:35).
“Even the tax collectors justified God” (Luke 7:29; see also Rom 3:4).
“Wanting to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29).
“You are those who justify yourselves before men…” (Luke 16:15).
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Rom 4:2; compare Jas 2:21).
“I am not justified by this” (1 Cor 4:4).
“[Jesus was] justified in the Spirit” (1 Tim 3:16).
Not only does the NT itself show that sōzō often refers to temporal deliverance and dikaioō often refers to vindication before men, but so does the leading lexicon of NT Greek.
BDAG indicates that sōzō means “1) to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions save, keep from harm, preserve, rescue … 2) to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save/preserve from eternal death from judgment, and from all that might lead to such death, e.g. sin, also in a positive sense bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation … 3) Certain passages belong under 1 and 2 at the same time. They include Mk 8:35=Lk 9:24 (s. 1a and 2a β above) and Lk 9: v.l., where sōzein is used in contrast to destruction by fire from heaven, but also denotes the bestowing of transcendent salvation.”
BDAG lists meanings in descending order. In other words, the leading Greek lexicon says that the primary usage of sōzō is “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions.”
BDAG lists the meanings of dikaioō as “1) to take up a legal cause, show justice, do justice, take up a cause…2) to render a favorable verdict, vindicate … 3) to cause someone to be released from personal or institutional claims that are no longer to be considered pertinent or valid, make free/pure … 4) to demonstrate to be morally right, prove to be right, passive of God is proved to be right…”
Given this abundant Biblical and lexical evidence for temporal definitions of sōzō and dikaioō, Schreiner’s claim that these definitions “aren’t found in the rest of the New Testament” is patently false. Given that major oversight, perhaps Schreiner should not be charging Free Grace exegetes with “desperate exegesis”?
Schreiner’s one proof that faith is not mental assent, Jas 2:14–26, does not prove his point. Indeed, it goes against his point.
III. DEFICIENT FAITH IN MATTHEW, JOHN, AND PAUL
The second section in Schreiner’s proof that good works are needed for final justification is what he calls “deficient faith” in Matthew, John, and Paul.
A. Deficient Faith in Matthew
The only evidence Schreiner cites in Matthew is the parable of the four soils (Matt 13:20–23). Unfortunately, the author’s discussion is inadequate. According to him, only the last soil has saving faith; the rest have deficient faith. He says, “Only the last soil truly receives the seed.”8 And he says soils two and three, “exercise a kind of faith” but that “true faith is a persevering faith.”9
But where do we see these ideas taught in the text?
The second soil “hears the word and at once receives it with joy.” The Lord continues, “But since they have no [depth of] root, they last only for a time.” The Greek words translated they last only for a time in the NIV are proskairos esti, literally, it is for a time or it is short-lived. The point is, life has begun. The seed germinated as the Lord said in the telling of the parable (not mentioned by Schreiner): “they immediately sprang up” (v 5). A seed can only spring up out of the ground if life has begun. Since the seed is the saving message, as Schreiner himself says, the life must be everlasting life.10
The third soil also is said by our Lord to have germinated and sprouted: “some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them” (v 7). Obviously, there would be nothing to choke unless the seed had germinated and sprung up.11 It too had life, that is, everlasting life.
Schreiner thinks the fact that only the fourth soil brought forth mature fruit means only the fourth soil persevered in faith. Yet in the Lukan version we learn that the third soil “brought forth no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14, emphasis added). The words “to maturity” are telling. In contrast to the second soil (compare Luke 8:13 and Matt 13:21), the third soil continued believing to the end. Yet even the second soil believed and germinated.
The parable of the four soils actually works against Schreiner’s position. There is nothing deficient about the faith of the second and third soils. Both result in new life.
B. Deficient Faith in John
Here Schreiner cites three passages: John 2:23–25, 8:30–59, and 1 John 2:19. Each passage is only given cursory attention by the author.
Schreiner admits that those in John 2:23 “believed in (episteusan) Him.” He then says, “John hints, however, that their belief was not genuine, for even though they believed in Jesus, the trust wasn’t mutual. Jesus didn’t believe in or entrust (episteuen) himself to them.”12
Didn’t the Lord say that whoever believes in Him has everlasting life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 11:26)? If inspired Scripture says they believed in Him, then they are born again.
The key to understanding this passage is to realize that the fact that Jesus did not entrust Himself to them is a discipleship matter, not a justification matter.
Not every new believer is ready to receive deeper revelation about Christ, or to endure persecution for His name. If a believer is committed to confessing Him, the Lord causes him to grow. But the new believers in this passage were not ready to confess Jesus publicly. Note the repetition of the word man (anthropos) in John 2:25 and 3:1. Nicodemus is an example of a secret believer (compare John 7:50–51; 12:42–43; 19:38–39).13
Concerning John 8:30–59, Schreiner again admits that John tells us Jesus addressed “those who believed (pepisteukotas) in him (8:31).”14 Yet he fails to cite v 30 where John said, “As He spoke these words, many believe in Him.” Again, this is pisteuō eis auton, the same words used in John 3:16 and throughout John’s Gospel to refer to those who are born again. Schreiner misses the fact that those who speak in vv 33ff are not the new believers of vv 30–32. We know this for certain because in vv 45 and 46, verses not mentioned by the author, the Lord directly says, “you do not believe Me.” So unless John in vv 30–31 is contradicting what Jesus said in vv 45–46, Jesus is addressing two different groups.
The best way to understand this passage is to see there was a large crowd present. Some people in the crowd came to faith in Him, as John tells us. But most people did not believe in Him, as the Lord Jesus tells us. So we have two groups: the minority who believed, and the majority who did not. Thus the people mentioned in 8:30–32 are distinct from the larger unbelieving group in vv 33–59.
First John 2:19 does not mention believing in Jesus. Thus it is unclear why Schreiner even brings it up.
John’s Gospel and his first epistle underscore that anyone who believes in Jesus has everlasting life. There is no special faith required to be born again, contra Schreiner.
C. Deficient Faith in Paul
Though Paul wrote thirteen epistles, we receive but one paragraph from the author to prove that he too teaches there is a type of deficient faith. He selects only two examples, Demas and Hymanaeus.
Demas was one of Paul’s trusted co-workers for a time (Col 4:14; Philem 24), but Paul later said, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim 4:10). In the first place, Paul does not indicate whether Demas stopped believing. In the second place, it is certain that Paul would not allow an unbeliever to be his co-worker (let alone one he twice mentions favorably).
Schreiner does not comment on either passage which concerns Hymanaeus (1 Tim 1:18–20 or 2 Tim 2:17–20). He says that he “must have shown some promise as a leader in the church, for Paul gave him a position of responsibility” but that “his later actions proved, however, that his faith wasn’t genuine.”15 Once again, why would Paul give this man a position of responsibility if he was an unbeliever? And why is doctrinal defection proof one is not a believer? Paul does not say that.
A reasonable conclusion from these texts about Hymanaeus is that doctrinal defection is possible for a born-again person and so we should be on guard against that. Schreiner’s reading is that doctrinal defection is impossible for the born-again person so we need not be concerned about it. That turns Paul’s concern about both Demas and Hymanaeus on its head.
IV. A LIVING, ACTIVE FAITH
This section goes over some of the same ground cited above, this time focusing on synonyms for faith. Schreiner summarizes his point in this section as follows: “Faith obeys, keeps, abides, follows, comes, enters, goes, eats, drinks, loves, hears, and sees.”16
Certainly in John’s Gospel eating, drinking, and coming to Jesus are all figures of faith in Him. To drink the living water is to believe in Him (compare John 4:10–14 with John 6:35). To eat the bread of life is to believe in Jesus (John 6:35–40). To come to Jesus is to believe in Him (John 5:39–40; 6:35).
It misses the point of the comparison to say that faith actually comes, eats, and drinks. It is not that faith does those things, but that faith is those things. They are synonyms for believing in Jesus.
Schreiner equates faith in Jesus with following Him. But if salvation is by faith, and faith is following, then conversion is linear. One is not born again at a point in time, but over one’s lifetime of following Him.
Similarly, to say that saving faith obeys is to teach works salvation and a linear view of conversion. John 3:36, the text cited by the author, actually undercuts his point. There John the Baptist says, “He who believes [ho pisteuōn] in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe [ho apeithōn] the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” I agree that ho apeithōn can legitimately be translated “he who disobeys.” However, this is contrasted with “he who believes.” That is, since God commands everyone to believe in His Son, failure to do so is disobedience. To suggest that John 3:36 means that whoever obeys the commandments of God over his lifetime until death has everlasting life is to badly distort one of the most beautiful and beloved verses in the Bible.
As both the upper room discourse and John’s first epistle show, “abiding” is a discipleship concept. To suggest, as the author does, that belief abides is to mix justification and sanctification. The same is true when Schreiner argues that faith loves. Thus if someone is not loving others wholeheartedly, he must not have faith. And if he doesn’t continue to love others wholeheartedly, he must not have faith either.
V. SOLA FIDE DEMANDS GOOD WORKS FOR SALVATION
The heading, “Sola Fide Demands Good Works for Salvation,” is striking. The main reason it is striking is because the Apostles made it clear that justification is by faith alone, apart from works. See Paul’s statements of that very truth in Rom 4:1–4; Eph 2:8–9; and Titus 3:5.
Saying that justification by faith alone demands works for salvation (i.e., in order to be saved from eternal condemnation) is like saying that an absolutely “free” college scholarship demands good works in order to gain and retain it. But if you have to work to get a scholarship (e.g., by practicing and playing football 40 hours a week, or studying 40 hours a week so you can retain a GPA over 3.5), then you earn the scholarship. You may not be paying for your school with cash, but you are paying for it with labor. In which case, the scholarship isn’t free. A scholarship is only absolutely free if it is given apart from any works you have to do.17
Saying that good works are required “for salvation” is a departure from the old Calvinist position that good works are the necessary fruit of salvation. Here good works are not the result but the means to salvation.
To prove his point Schreiner looks at texts from Matthew, John’s Gospel and First Epistle, Paul, and James.
Matthew’s Gospel is not evangelistic in nature. It is a discipleship book.18 Yet Schreiner thinks he finds proofs here that good works are demanded for salvation from eternal condemnation. He cites two passages.
First he cites Matt 7:15–23. He makes a great observation here that many miss. In Matt 7:15–20 the saying, “You will know them by their fruits,” refers not to believers, but to false prophets: “False prophets are recognized by their fruit (Matt 7:15–20).”19 He errs, however, when he then says regarding those who say “Lord, Lord” but who are rejected for kingdom entrance:
Confessing that Jesus is Lord doesn’t guarantee entrance into the kingdom, for the kingdom is restricted to ‘the one who does the will of My Father in heaven’ (7:21)…They will be excluded from the kingdom if their lives are given over to their own selfish will and to evil actions.20
The problem with these people is that they present their works as the reason they should get into the kingdom. They are not expecting kingdom entrance simply based on faith in Christ for the everlasting life He promises. Indeed, they do not mention His promise of life or their faith in Him.
Schreiner does not mention other uses of the expression “the will of my Father.” But it is clear that “the will of the Father” concerning kingdom entrance is believing in His Son (John 6:39–40; see also Matt 21:28–32 and the linkage of believing John the Baptist’s preaching concerning Jesus with doing the will of the Father).
Second, Schreiner cites Matt 25:31–46, the judgment of the sheep and the goats. He calls this “a memorable scene of the final judgment.”21 Yet this text does not concern the final judgment, i.e., the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11–15). At that judgment all the unbelieving dead will be raised and brought there. But in the judgment of the sheep and the goats, the Lord is only looking at Gentiles who have not died during the Tribulation. Among these are believers (sheep) and unbelievers (goats).22
At the end of the Tribulation the only believers who will survive it will be those who endured in the faith as the Lord said at the start of the Sermon (Matt 24:13, 22). “Inheriting the kingdom” (Matt 25:34) refers not simply to getting into it, but to ruling in it. Compare Matt 19:29 (“inheriting eternal life”), Gal 6:8–9 (“reaping everlasting life”), and 2 Tim 2:12 (“if we endure, we shall also reign with Him”).
B. John’s Gospel and First Epistle
Schreiner cites John 3:36 and the expression “he who does not obey the Son shall not see life” (NASB).23 Yet that saying is preceded by “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life.” The issue is belief or unbelief. Unbelief can rightly be called disobedience since the Father commands all to believe in His Son (Matt 3:17; 17:5; Mark 9:7; John 6:39–40).
He says, “First John is even more emphatic about the necessity of obedience [for salvation]. Those who want to be ensured of their new life must keep Jesus’ commands (1 John 2:3).”24 Yet 1 John 2:3 says, “By this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” Knowing Christ is not the same as being born again. One is born again by faith. One can only know Christ in His experience by walking in the light of God’s Word (1 John 1:7–9). This is a fellowship issue, not a relationship issue.
Schreiner understands 1 John 3:9 as teaching that “sin no longer rules and reigns in their life.”25 Yet that makes no sense in light of 1 John 1:8, 10 and 5:18. Believers certainly shouldn’t let sin reign in their mortal bodies (Romans 6). But they might. And some do. A better understanding of 1 John 3:9 is that it means that the born-of-God part of us never sins—at all. We are sinless in our new life (what some call the new nature).26
The author ends this section trying to back track on what he has been saying: “The obedience that saves, then, doesn’t qualify us to be members of the people of God. It indicates that we are truly trusting in Christ, that we are members of his people.” Notice the words, “the obedience that saves.” According to Schreiner, it is not faith alone that saves. It is obedience that saves.
To later say obedience indicates that “we are truly trusting in Christ” is hard to understand. Was Peter not a believer when he denied Jesus three times? Were he and Barnabas not believers when “they were not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel” (Gal 2:14)? Are we to understand that Judas was “truly trusting in Christ” since he followed Jesus for three and a half years?
Here Schreiner cites Romans 2 and Gal 5:19–21 and 6:7–9.
He only devotes one paragraph to Romans 2. There he says, “Paul emphasizes the necessity of good works for final salvation. God repays each person ‘according to his works’ (Rom 2:6).”27 He does acknowledge my position: “Some have taken these verses to be hypothetical.”28 That is, someone living a sinless life could be saved on that basis. But none ever have. We have all fallen short of God’s glory. Hence, the offer of salvation on the basis of works is hypothetical.
Schreiner rejects that view saying, “but the conclusion of Romans 2 shows that the hypothetical reading isn’t convincing, for we see that those who obey do so because of the work of the Spirit in them (2:26– 29).” He suggests that the works are “the result of the supernatural work of the Spirit in their lives. Hence their obedience doesn’t earn or merit eternal life but is the result of the new life they already possess.”29
His view puzzles me. What he calls “final salvation” requires good works. And Schreiner says final salvation is “God repay[ing] each person ‘according to his works’ (Rom 2:6).” Payment for work done is not justification by grace through faith. According to Paul in Rom 4:4, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” Then in Rom 4:5 he says, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” His understanding of Romans 2 is directly contradicted by Rom 4:4–5 which he does not discuss here. (Of course, it is also contradicted by Rom 3:21–28; Gal 2:16; and Eph 2:8–9).
How does he harmonize his view that the people doing the good works “already possess eternal life” with Rom 2:7 which says “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality”? If Rom 2:7 is not hypothetical but actual, then eternal life is not a present possession, but is something which is received after someone perseveres to the end of life in doing good.
Nothing in Rom 2:26–29 shows that the hypothetical view is wrong. Indeed, vv 26-27 must be hypothetical in light of Rom 3:21–28 and 4:4–5. And Rom 2:28–29 points at faith in Christ, not works of the law.
Concerning Gal 5:19–21 and Gal 6:7–9 Schreiner says, “Sowing to the Spirit, then, is imperative to obtain eternal life, while those who sow to the flesh will experience the final judgment.”30
Here again Schreiner is teaching a linear view of conversion. Notice that he says that one does not obtain eternal life at the moment he believes in Him. Instead he says that one will obtain eternal life in the future if he sows the Spirit in this life.
Sowing and reaping are the language of farming. That is the language of hard work. Contrast that with Eph 2:8–9 and salvation which is past tense (“you have been saved”) and which is “not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
In Gal 5:9–21 and 6:7–9 Paul is speaking of a possible future reaping of fullness of everlasting life. While all believers have and always will have everlasting life, only those who sow to the Spirit will reap a full experience of that life forever.
Here Schreiner once again discusses James 2. This time, however, he does concede that some understand the justification of Abraham and Rahab as being before men and not before God. He says, “Theologically, this solution is on the right track, but lexically it isn’t convincing.”31 Schreiner gives no lexical reason for it not being convincing. On the contrary, see the evidence I provided above which shows that dikaioō indeed can and does refer at times to vindication before men.
Schreiner cites as proof of his view James’s mention of Gen 15:6 in Jas 2:23. Yet what he fails to note is that James is not pointing to Gen 15:6 when he speaks of Abraham being justified by the offering up of Isaac. James is referring to Genesis 22, which occurred decades after Abraham was justified before God. Compare Rom 4:2, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” To whom then, might Abraham have something to boast about? Men, of course. Abraham’s offering up of Isaac is considered within Judaism and Christianity to be the greatest act of piety ever. James (and Paul) are saying that Abraham was justified, that is, vindicated, before men when he offered up Isaac.
At the start of Chapter 16 in the book Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification, Schreiner says, “The New Testament clearly teaches that bare faith cannot save, and that works are necessary for final justification or final salvation.”32
He says this repeatedly in Chapter 16. That statement is not some slip up on his part. That is what he is arguing the Bible teaches and the Reformers taught.
However, the expression “bare faith” is synonymous with “faith alone.” How can justification be by faith alone and yet not by bare faith? How can good works be required for justification if the only condition is faith?
So according to the author, the doctrine of justification by faith alone really means that the person who follows and obeys Christ and produces an abundance of good works will reap final justification and final salvation. Or, stated oppositely, the person who stops following and obeying Christ will not reap final justification and final salvation. Chapter 16 is a call for the reader to keep working hard for the Lord so that he might be rewarded with final salvation and final justification.
I know that Dr. Schreiner is a gifted scholar, but respectfully, his position on justification by faith alone makes no sense. For whatever reason, he is advocating a position that is at odds with the Bible.
1 Thomas R. Schreiner, Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).
2 Ibid., 193.
3 Ibid., 191.
4 Ibid., 192.
5 See Bob Wilkin, “Another View of Faith and Works in James 2,” JOTGES (Autumn 2002): 3–21.
6 Schreiner, Faith Alone, 192.
7 In Jas 1:21 the author commends “beloved brethren” (1:19) who have been born again by God’s Word (1:17-18) to receive the implanted word which is able to save their lives from physical death (cf. 1:15). Salvation from physical death is also in view in Jas 4:12 where “to save and to destroy” refers either to extending or curtailing one’s life as 4:13–15 shows. And in Jas 5:19–20 where if one of the “brothers” should “wander away from the truth” and another brother “turns him back,” then he saves the straying brother’s life from death. Even Jas 5:15 and “the prayer of faith [which’ will save the sick,” refers to healing that takes imminent death out of the way. James 2:14 fits this temporal salvation understanding as well.
8 Schreiner, Faith Alone, 194, emphasis his.
9 Ibid., emphasis his.
10 In the Lukan version of the parable the Lord specifically says of the second soil, “[they] believe for a while” (Luke 8:13). What they believe is the saving message (Luke 8:12), hence they are saved.
11 Compare the same parable in Luke, “the thorns sprang up with it and choked it” (Luke 8:7). The words “with it” show that the third soil sprang up as well.
12 Schreiner, Faith Alone, 194.
13 For more information about the theme of “secret believers” in John, see Bob Bryant, “The Secret Believer in the Gospel of John,” JOTGES (Autumn 2014): 61–75.
14 Schreiner, Faith Alone, 195.
15 Ibid., 196.
16 Ibid., 198.
17 That is, by the way, what some politicians are now proposing. They are not suggesting high school students must work to earn a scholarship. They are suggesting that the federal government will scholarship any and all students who wish to go on to college.
18 R. T. France says, “Matthew designed his Gospel to be of practical value in the teaching and leadership of the church” (Matthew, Tyndale Series [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985], 21; see also 17, 20). Likewise, Leon Morris favorably cites Stendahl who calls Matthew “a handbook for teaching and administration within the church” (Matthew [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992], 5).
19 Schreiner, Faith Alone, 199.
20 Ibid., 200.
22 Lou Barbieri entitled Matt 25:31–26, “The Coming Judgment on Gentiles” (“Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, eds John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck [Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor, 1983], 2:80). He adds, “This is not the same as the great white throne judgment, which involves only the wicked and which follows the Millennium (Rev. 20:13–15). The judgment of Gentiles will occur 1,000 years earlier…” (p. 80). Similarly, William MacDonald calls this section, “The King Judges the Nations” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, ed. Art Farstad [Dallas, TX: Thomas Nelson, 1995], 1299). He adds, “The nations, or Gentiles (the Greek word can mean either)…will be judged according to their treatment of Christ’s Jewish brethren during the Tribulation” (p. 115). Note Jesus’ mention of what the sheep did for Him and what the goats did not do for Him. Later when asked He indicates that helping “My brethren” (vv 40, 45), that is, Jewish believers during the Tribulation, was helping Him.
23 Schreiner does mention a few other texts in the Fourth Gospel, but none of them are in contexts explaining what one must do to have everlasting life (John 3:20–21; 14:15; 15:14).
24 Schreiner, Faith Alone, 201.
25 Ibid., 202.
26 See, for example, Zane Hodges, The Epistles of John (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 1999, 2015), 140–44.
27 Schreiner, Faith Alone, 202, emphasis added.
30 Ibid., 203.
31 Ibid., 205.
32 Ibid., 191. 18