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Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence

Fred R. Lybrand Longwood, FL 2009-08-10

Many Reformed theologians and others accept the following cliché of John Calvin in 1547: “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” In examining this statement Lybrand, executive director of the Free Grace Alliance, shows that it is logically invalid. He notes that if faith alone saves but the faith that saves is not alone, this is “speaking nonsense” (p. 21). He points out that this “runs perilously close to including works as an essential for salvation” (p. 6).

In discussing James 2:14–26 Lybrand points out that the cliché is exegetically invalid because James wrote of genuine faith, not a so-called faith. True faith, however, is “dead,” that is, it has not grown or matured. “James is concerned about Christians who have faith, but who do not put works with their faith. Indeed, the entire section cries out for one simple point: add works to your faith! It is a fiction to assume that James is concerned about a false faith when his emphasis is on the importance of adding works to one’s faith. The faith is real, and it will thrive with the addition of works” (p. 102).

In chapter 6 Lybrand discusses more than seventy New Testament passages in which works are seen not as guaranteed, but as encouraged. Thus the cliché is wrong, for it suggests that “works are guaranteed.” Many pastors and theologians have promoted this cliché, but none so vigorously, Lybrand suggests, as John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. So Lybrand spends an entire chapter examining Piper’s view. Lybrand says Piper affirms “faith alone” (pp. 195, 198–205), but he also affirms that faith is “not alone” (pp. 196, 205–23). Piper says faith “produces the works” (p. 224), and that “unless faith has works, then it is not faith at all” (p. 224). This faith must persevere, according to Piper, for if it does not, it is spurious faith.

As Lybrand correctly observes, “The cliché is wrong, and works do not prove salvation since salvation is accomplished apart from works” (p. 249).

This thorough analysis of a common cliché is a welcome discussion of the relationship between faith and works. As the book’s subtitle suggests, this work can help reclaim the gospel’s clarity.

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Roy B. Zuck
Roy B. Zuck, was senior professor emeritus of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary and editor of Bibliotheca Sacra.
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