In my previous post, I engaged the seminal texts which provide the backbone for the Prostestant conception of justification by faith, deconstructing the false notion that the works of the law to which Paul frequently referred are equivalent with action, unconditionally. Furthermore, I outlined how Pauls discussion of the works of the law is utilized as a polemic against the Judaizers of Pauls day who believed that justification was exclusivistically attained through identification with Jewish cultural and religious identification. Against these assertions, Paul argues that justification is not based upon becoming a Jew, but is rather located in identification with Christ through faith. As I have advocated, Paul does not, in his polemic against works of the law, mean to advocate that what one does (action) is immaterial to justification. Quite to the contrary, we will see that Paul understands act and attitude to be inseparably linked to one another and indelibly necessary to justification.

In Romans 3, Paul has completed his tour de force against the Judaizers, definitively eschewing the belief that justification with God is found through the Jewish system. To illustrate the alternative which he proposes (justification by faith), Paul conjures the example of Abraham:

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast aboutbut not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."

These first three verses are often quoted as the proof of Abrahams justification sola fidei, by faith alone (without action). Especially noted by advocates of this position is the juxtaposition of Abraham being justified by works and Abrahams justification through belief. However, if Pauls argument from chapter 3 is kept in mind (as it should be, since it is the foundation upon which the logic of chapter 4 is built), it is clear, once again, that Paul is not saying that Abrahams justification was unrelated to action. Rather, Paul is simply saying that Abrahams justification came apart from identification with the Jewish system.

His first proof is the nature of the crediting of righteousness:

4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 "Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man
whose sin the Lord will never count against him."

In the Jewish mindset, righteousness was by proxy, by being identified with a particular cultural/religious system. However, Paul cuts through the inevitable logic of this proxy-righteousness by showing that such functions merely as a blackmail of God. In other words, the Judaizers believed that identification with the Jewish system automatically and unfailingly brought justification. However, Paul notes that this forces God hand, for those who work, their wages are credited as an obligation. In opposition to this, Paul wishes to argue that Gods justifying righteousness is free gift that is not compelled of God by one being identified with a particular cultural/religious system. The fact that God freely justifies the wicked apart from the wicked compelling righteousness from God, to Paul, highlights the ultimate freedom and giftedness of Gods justifying grace.

Thus, in this argument, Paul has cleared the way of any conception that sinners can somehow compel the justifying grace of God by entering through a particular cultural/religious system (as the Judaizers believed).

The next movement of Pauls logic is to strike at the heart of the Judaizers exclusivistic claims, the mark of circumcision.

9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

Again, Paul takes a shot at the Judaizers logic. To the Judaizers, the ultimate transition from pagan to God-pleaser (Jew) was the mark of circumcision. To be circumcised was to be made a permanent part of the covenant community; the continual bearing of the mark of circumcision guaranteed ones participation within the blessings of the covenant. In a dramatic move, Paul overturns the veracity of the mark of circumcision completely, advocating that the mark of circumcision is not only irrelevant to justification (as the Judaizers believed it to be), but moreover that it is of no worth at all. Again, Abraham is the ultimate archetype of Pauls system, for Abraham was justified with God before the mark of circumcision was given to Abraham and his offspring. In Pauls thinking, this dramatically and definitively undermines the exclusivistic claims of the Judaizers, for if Abraham, who became a Jew (circumcised) was justified with God before he became a Jew (circumcised), obviously justification is unrelated to participating in the Jewish cultural/religious system.

The rest of Pauls argument throughout the chapter deals with the nature of the promise to Abraham, and solidifies Pauls claims that the promise made to Abraham was made apart from the Jewish system. Therefore, to Paul, this can only reinforce the meaning that justification and receiving of the promise of Abraham come not from participation within the Jewish system, but rather through Christ who …was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (25).

Because the rest of chapter is a reinforcement of Pauls argument against the Judaizers, I will not engage the rest of it here. However, suffice it to say that the way in which Paul utilized the example of Abraham does not create the bifurcation between faith and action which many Protestant conceptions of justification by faith would affirm. Rather, the entire force of Pauls argument through this, and the preceding chapter, is that the Judaizers are wrong in their contention that justification can only take place within the Jewish system.

Despite the above-referenced conclusions about Pauls argument, many Protestantseven if they affirm that Paul was polemically writing against the Judaizerswill nonetheless attempt to bolster their bifurcation of belief and action by utilizing the example of Abraham. As the normal argument proceeds, Abraham was credited with righteousness because he believed God. Taken with a misunderstanding of Pauls polemic against the Jadiazers and the exclusvistic conception of the necessity of the works of the Law, these advocates of the Protestant flavored justification by faith alone separate the nature of belief from action, advocating that belief is the justifying element apart from any conceivable action.

I would suggest, contrary to this contention, that the Protestant formulation of justification by faith alone completely misunderstands the way in which Paul and the other biblical writers understood the example of Abraham and the nature of his belief. A cursory look at the ancient writings about Abraham will sufficiently prove the point.

Genesis 12:
1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.
2 "I will make you into a great nation
I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."
4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.

This passage is quite striking, for it is packed with action. The word of the Lord comes to Abram. What does Abram do? So Abram left, as the Lord had told him. Abrams obedience to the Lord is displayed in a definitive actAbram leaves the only world, culture and religious system which he has ever known to follow after a mysterious God who has called him from among the people. The Lord makes a promise to Abram, and Abram believes. However, his belief is revealed not in an attitudinal shift or an existential alignment, but rather with action.

Genesis 13:
14 The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you."

18 So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD
Again, the Lord commands Abram, telling him to Go. How is Abrams faith revealed? So Abram moved his tents… As before, Abrams faith is active; it is not an abstracted belief, but is rather the crisis of action in obedience to God.
Genesis 22:
2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.

As before, the word of the Lord comes to Abraham. Abraham responds in his usual way, with obedience, with action.

These three examples are just a microcosm of the example of Abraham developed throughout Genesis. Abraham was a man who believed the Lordhowever, as noted above, his belief was not merely a metaphysical conception of faith that was divorced from action; rather, Abrahams belief was action, and his action was his faith.

I mention these examples because they are critical in coming to Pauls utilization of Abraham as an example of faith. If we think of Abraham merely through the lens of the one quotation of Hebrew Scripture which Paul uses (Abraham believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness), we miss the grander narrative of Abrahams life of obedience and active-faith that would have been the source from which Paul drew. Paul was a Jewthroughout his childhood and education, he would have heard the example of Abrahams obedience to God rehearsed over and over again. All the stories of Abrahams faithfulness to God would be indelibly at the front of his mind when talking about Abraham. Therefore, to divorce the historical, narrated Abraham from Pauls utilization of Abraham as an example of faith is the greatest injustice that one could do to Pauls logic in Romans 4.

Toward a Conclusion

The Protestant conception of justification by faith [alone], and its consequent bifurcation of faith and action is a behemoth doctrine that would require a concentrated and massive effort to deconstruct. Certainly a single blog posting is insufficient to comprehensively deal with every issue and objection that could be raised. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to at least outline some preliminary conclusions about what a deconstructed version of justification by faith might look like.

The obvious and necessary conclusion of such a deconstruction and rethinking of justification by faith is that one must eschew the hard and fast dichotomous relationship that Prostantant theology conceives to exist between faith and works. As such a bifurcation is based upon an inappropriate and uninformed equation of works of the law with action, a properly read Pauline theology reveals that not only are faith and action NOT antithetically related, but moreover that per the example of Abraham, they are intimately, necessarily and inextricably related.

In short, to have faith is to act, and to act is to have faith. There is no meaningful way in which what one believes can be realistically divorced from how one responds to God. Because of this undeniable reality, the classic workaround of the logical precedence of faith must be rejected also. Alternatively, our language and theology must be restructured to embrace the concomitant relationship between faith and action, visualizing them as a unified whole and not as competing or contradictory facets of human response to God.

I think the best illustration of this comes from Jesus words in Matthew 25:

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

In this passage, Jesus clearly and directly addresses the relationship between belief and action.  The unrighteous were those who had believed that attitudinal change equated to justifying faith. They called Christ, Lord, yet their actions denied their claims. Jesus is disgusted with their faith, for it is not a true faith. Truly enough, it is theologically sound; they have clearly described Christ as Lord. Intellectually and propositionally, they have faith. However, they have neglected to do that which Christ has commanded. Unlike Abraham, when the call of the Lord to Go came, they did not go. Rather, they assented theologically, rationally, and propositionally to the call; but they did not ACT. Therefore, they and their faith is rejectedtheir actions revealed that their faith was no faith at all.

Conversely, Jesus praises the righteous, for they are the ones who have believed and actedthey are the ones who have had faith. It is not as if they did their actions to force God to justify themas they narrative goes, they did not even
realize that
they were feeding, clothing and visiting Jesus. They were simply being faithful to the command of Christ to love your neighbor as yourself. It is this act of faithfulness to Christ commands, not theological assent (which was identical for both the righteous and unrighteous), that was ultimately justifying to the sheep.

I understand that for many (including myself), what has been mentioned above is a radical redefinition of justification by faith. As mentioned in my previous post, the Prostestant conception of justification by faith [alone] has so engrossed the Protestant tradition that it is nearly impossible to suspend ones inherited theological beliefs in order to look at Paul and Jesus teaching in a new way, a way which does not demand a hard bifurcation between faith and action. However, if we are to truly capture the core of what both Paul and Jesus were sayingthat is, that faith is belief/action, that it is the concomitant crisis of trust and action manifested in the daily activities of our lives–we must try.