“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
-The Apostle Paul, Romans 1:16-17, ESV
In my last post, I explained the gospel of God’s free grace. Salvation is a free gift to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be taken away. Nothing can be added to this gift, but that does not mean this gift adds nothing to us. God’s salvation changes everything! The verses quoted above tell us that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel of salvation. How is it revealed? “from faith to faith.” A survey of commentaries on the book of Romans show that there are many different understandings of the phrase “from faith to faith.” My own understanding is that the first faith speaks of the faith that saves, and the second speaks of the life of faith.  We are saved, made children of God, and fully ready for heaven the moment we believe. But God has seen fit not to take us directly to heaven. Why? Because His righteousness is revealed to the world as we live the life of faith. This is why Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by faith.” The righteous are those who have been justified (declared righteous) through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which was credited to them at the moment of salvation. This is what we call “imputed righteousness.” Sinners with no righteousness of their own are considered righteous before God because the God sees them through the righteousness of Christ. But that is not the end of the story. The Holy Spirit living in the believer makes the righteousness of Christ an active force in our lives when we live in His power.
This explains something in greater detail that we saw in the last post. While good works are never the cause of salvation, they are always the result. Some have said it this way: “We are saved by faith alone, but a faith that saves is never alone.” That is because God’s miracle of salvation leads to his miracle of sanctification. Sanctification is a theological term that is usually used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. What I am saying here has been the core Christian understanding since the Reformation. We are saved by faith alone, and saving faith leads us to good works.
So why write a blog about this subject? Because this theological point has incredible relevance to many questions facing the Christian today. The Christian gospel is as unpopular as it ever was. There are concerted efforts on the parts of many power players to have the Christian gospel defined as “hate speech” because it says that God will send you to hell if you do not trust in Jesus for salvation. And it says this loud and clear. Some pastors and teachers who call themselves “Christian” have responded to these trends with the courage to capitulate. They bravely take the “if you can’t beat em, join em,” approach. They opt out of the traditional message of salvation for some kind of nebulous pluralistic message of “we don’t really know anything for sure, but I like Jesus so I will call what I am ‘Christian’ but get rid of hell and judgment and say we’ll all end up in the same place in the end.” Now, of course, these pastors who have courage to protect their own necks are spouting heresy. Many other pastors and teachers have rightly called out this false teaching and continue to insist that we must preach the gospel of salvation through Christ alone. But sometimes, in their zeal, even these theologically conservative Bible teachers can become driven by reaction rather that biblical exegesis.
What I mean is that our false teachers have tossed aside the need for salvation. In its place, they often offer a religion of good works. While de-emphasizing some of the traditional Christian ethics like sexual purity, moderation and wholesome speech, they lay a heavy emphasis of things like feeding the hungry, helping the poor and standing up for the oppressed. How do our Bible believers often react? Often by asserting that we are here only to preach the gospel, and not to challenge the evils of society. Oh, they believe that saving faith results in good works. Oftentimes, they proclaim the well-known “lordship salvation” theology. Sometimes they go so far as to say that Christians need to look to their own good works for the assurance of salvation because “if He isn’t Lord of all then he isn’t Lord at all,” etc. But, usually the lists of good works that show whether a person is a true Christian are confined to who you sleep with, what you consume, what you watch and whether you use bad words. Essentially, as long as you avoid the dirty free-for-all where they go hard core and there’s glitter on the floor, you can boldly proclaim that Jesus is the Lord of your life.
Standing up for the weak and downtrodden and caring for the poor is lumped into the hated category of “social justice.” After all, anyone who uses that phrase is a de-facto Marxist. “Justice needs no adjective,” some of our famous teachers will say, so we will just say we are already just and call anyone who disagrees with us a Marxist.
At this point, I have a confession to make. I am speaking in gross, sarcastic hyperbole. Let us be clear, the Bible does speak strongly against sexual immorality, over-indulgence, course jesting and filling our minds with trash. But when obedience to these commands becomes the essence of Christian ethics, one thinks of the words of Jesus when he said “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23b).
Is it true that we are only supposed to preach the gospel, and not stand up for the oppressed? If so then evangelicals must stop our pro-life marches, not concern ourselves with the rights of parents to homeschool their children, and any number of causes I can think of that step beyond “just sharing the gospel.” But is this true? Is this biblical? I think that something biblical is being missed. I believe that the Bible calls us to care for the poor and stand up for the oppressed. I believe that the faith that saves leads us to a life of righteousness that includes a deep concern for justice and mercy.
has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23:23).
So often, when questions of justice come up, phrases like “social justice” become dividing lines that effectively stop all discussion. If we really want to stop the discussion, we bring in the big guns like “critical race theory,” “intersectionality” and, especially, “Marxism.” For those wanting a better understanding of these words and phrases, and the conflict they have with a biblical worldview, I am not your expert. I recommend Kelly Hamren’s article “Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics.”
own area expertise is biblical exegesis and theology. So, for me the key
question is “What does the Bible say about justice? Having previously clarified
what I believe about salvation, and having now clarified that I believe that saving faith leads
us to good works. I now plan to begin a blog series entitled “Biblical Justice.”
For those who insist “justice needs no adjective,” I should probably apologize
in advance for using the adjective “biblical.” What I mean by using this
adjective is that I plan to survey some key Old and New Testament texts, and
see what they tell us about justice, and how God desires it to be part of the
righteousness He sees in our lives as a result of regeneration and the work of
the Holy Spirit.
 For a list of the major views see Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 76-77.
 See John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and to the Thessalonians Trans. Ross Mackenzie(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 28; Rene A. Lopez, Romans Unlocked (Springfield, MO: 21st Century Press, 2005), 41.