Righteous by Faith or Action?

This is a comment made on an Orthodox Jewish blog by a Jew that I found interesting and somewhat telling:

Righteousness basically means to “do what is right”. If God “works” the righteousness, it is God’s righteousness, not the persons. The person would not be doing what the person was created for and the person would just be a robot or a puppet or just a mirror incapable of being truly righteous, incapable of being truly obedient, unable to truly love God, and not being a child of God; not really created “in the image of God”. Golden calf’s or idols, such as the sun, have no real power, no mind, etc. If a person does evil, is God working through that person at that time and they were just a puppet, or did they freely choose not to do right? Free just as another chooses to do right.

This came after I made the comment that Abraham was righteous because of his faith in God and not his actions.  His actions were righteous as they were in response to his faith and trust in God, but the works in themselves do not make him righteous.  This is a sticking point within Christianity as well, but it is one of the main differences between Judaism and Christianity.

As this person pointed out, a person would be incapable of being truly righteous, of being truly obedient, unable to truly love God.  This is why we proclaim the need for Jesus.  We know that we cannot be truly righteous.  We know that once you fail to be obedient, and we are talking about complete obedience, that we will forever fall short of that standard of God.

God gave the Laws to show mankind that they would never be able to be truly righteous apart from God.  It is not possible to fully and completely follow the Laws the way they are intended.  Animal sacrifices were there to help cover up the sin of man, but the sin was never removed.  No sacrifices can be made today, so there is no way to be completely obedient as one of the key components has been removed from the people. 

For the Christian, we believe that Jesus was the only person to truly live in obedience to God, as he is God.  Jesus is the only perfect sacrifice as he is the only thing that was perfect.  Time has shown over and over how a created being cannot be perfect.  Only that which creates can live up to the standard of the creator.

We are saved and counted as righteous, not because of what we have done but because of our faith in God.


What is justification? Interesting question isn’t it? Similar to the question what is it to be saved, but since justification is a part of the salvation experience, we can see how salvation can not really be broken down in to a small bite sized chunk and no wonder so many Christians struggle with it.

This question follows in on a discussion I mentioned in the last post. The blogger disagrees with me when I state that faith should include the action of the individual and is not just dependant on the belief of the individual. I can believe Jesus is God and died for my sins, but if I choose not to act according to what I am asked by God to do, then I think it is fair to question my salvation or at least my understanding of what it means to be saved. The blogger disagreed with the comment:

the scriptures teach that saving grace is through faith alone. I agree that a mere intellectual acknowledgement of who Jesus is not saving faith. But again, if a person is regenerated by the God and good works proceed from that change, then the works do not play a part in the justification of the person; only the sanctification. I want to distance myself from the idea that works (or the lack of) play any roll in justification of the believer, only that they proceed from the change made by God during the sanctification process.

From a couple of the buzz words, I am assuming this blogger is a Calvinist/reformed follower. While I do not hold to Calvinism, I am not going to hold that against him. I think this example forces me to more closely question justification, which is good for my growth.

From the theological perspective, being justified means to be freed of the guilt and penalty attached to sin. I do not see it as an acquittal as we were found guilty, but Christ paid the penalty for us.

Though the LORD desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the LORD’s purpose will be accomplished through him. (Isa 53:10)

The old testament typically sees justification tied to the law. Justification is a legal term and deals with escaping the punishment of guilt. We see the results of justification as being made righteous before the Lord. Now the Christian term of justification was spawned by Paul and his letter of Romans, but the concept of it comes from Judaism.

So how does one become justified?

The LORD commanded us to obey all these statutes and to revere him so that it may always go well for us and he may preserve us, as he has to this day. We will be innocent if we carefully keep all these commandments before the LORD our God, just as he demands.” (Deu 6:24-25)

For the old testament, it was a response of obedience to God. The law was given and those who followed it would be declared innocent. Jesus said no one was able to follow the law completely, so no one was declared innocent by the law. That is a theme that Paul picked up on quite often. Paul’s term of justification is traced back to Abram(ham) and his response to God.

The LORD took him outside and said, “Gaze into the sky and count the stars — if you are able to count them!” Then he said to him, “So will your descendants be.” Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD considered his response of faith as proof of genuine loyalty. (Gen 15:5-6)

What was his response of faith?

and said, ” ‘I solemnly swear by my own name,’ decrees the LORD, ‘that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be as countless as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the strongholds of their enemies. (Gen 22:16-17)

Now I am not saying you must sacrifice your child to show God you are faithful to Him, but there must be a response besides just believing. The response comes about from the believing, so faith should really mean the trust/knowledge/belief in God and the action/response to Him. The two are not separate.

This is what James was picking up on when he said that faith and works go together. He was not referring to the works of trying to fulfill the law, which we know is to no avail. No one can be found innocent under the Law as we are unable to uphold all of the Law.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And similarly, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed 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. (Jas 2:21-26)

For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom 3:28)

Faith versus the law is that Paul is talking about. Not that faith is without works.

Was no one found to turn back and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to the man, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (Luk 17:18-19)

So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted even more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” So Jesus stopped and ordered the beggar to be brought to him. When the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He replied, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (Luk 18:38-42)

Jesus showed that people with faith acted on that faith. There was an action involved because of the faith. The two can not be separated. Those who have faith step out and call out to God for help and healing. Those with faith step out in response to God and what He calls us to do. Those with faith are justified.