I've decided that a basic tutorial in causation should be included in any complete theological education. And this isn't just a ploy to work logic and geometry into religion, although certainly those two subjects are void of meaning without theology. But theology also requires causation to be properly understood. Logic requires a God of order behind it, but the study of the God of order also requires logic, specifically causation.
More particularly, I'm thinking of the relationship between law and grace, as outlined in the scriptures. The law has three purposes: (1) through the magistrate, the law works to restrain sin; (2) as a mirror, the law shows us our sin and need of a Savior; (3) finally, the law guides believers in holy living. (If anyone comes up with an "m" term for the third purpose, let me know. . . )
Notice that none of the three purposes is to save us from our sin. The law does not save; rather, it condemns. The second purpose is to drive us to salvation, yes, but it is not our actual salvation. It is to show us that we can't save ourselves through works. The message of the law and all of scripture is that man cannot save himself through his works.
But then, I would also submit that faith, without works (of the law), is dead. Heretic! one might scream. Legalistic, works-oriented salvationist, Phariseeical - pick your favorite adjective. I could also be accused of abandoning three of the five solas of the reformation, namely that we are saved by grace alone, by Christ's work alone, by faith alone.
But of course, no one is going to actually call me a heretic for saying that faith without works is dead, because I carefully chose an exact quote of scripture, as most (or all) of you probably noticed :-). And yes, I know that a text without a context is a pretext, so really I have shown nothing with one little scripture reference. So take a look at the verse in context. First look at the surrounding verses, then the whole chapter (James 2), then all of the Epistle of James. One can easily see that this little statement "faith without works is dead" is far from an isolated statement. Hmm.
We are graciously saved by faith alone - just to reiterate Sola Gratia and Sola Fide :). For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - not by works that any man can boast. But now I'm going to make a statement that is strange. We are saved through works. Yep, that's right. I'm advocating a works-oriented salvation. But, I quickly clarify, those works are not our own. Our salvation is accomplished by Christ's work on the cross, and we are given righteousness based on the perfect life that He lived on earth. So we are saved Solus Christus - by Christ's works alone. I hope that clarifies my standing (and more importantly, scripture's standing) on those three solas :).
But I would still submit that faith without works is dead. The key to understanding how the above three solas mesh with James' statement is to first understand causation.
For example, eating 10 chocolate bars in one sitting will cause a stomache ache. To put symbolically, let E = eating 10 chocolate bars, and S = stomache ache. Simply, E ==> S, or read as "E implies S." In other words, if someone eats 10 chocolate bars in one sitting, they will necessarily get a stomachache.
Let's say Mary ate 10 chocolate bars in one sitting. Well, then we can conclude that she got a stomache ache. This is called Modus Ponens, and is the most basic of logical arguments.
E ==> S
But let's say that George has a stomache ache. Do we know for certain that he ate 10 chocolate bars in one sitting? No, certainly not. He may have eaten 10 ice cream bars in one sitting, or perhaps he is just feeling ill for no dietary reason. The arrow in the symbolic statement E ==> S shows us that E implies S, and not necessarily vice-versa.
But what if Susie does not have a stomach ache? Can we make any conclusions. Well, yes, actually. If Susie had eaten 10 chocolate bars in one sitting, she would have had a stomache ache, so the fact that she does not have a stomache ache shows that she did not just eat 10 chocolate bars in one sitting. This is known as Modus Tollens.
E ==> S
Therefore, not E.
How does this relate to theology, law and grace, and faith and works? Well, look at the following causal relationship:
faith ==> works
True faith results in good works, as is outlined in scripture. See James 1:27 or I John 2:3 or all of Romans 6, for just a few examples. When our salvation is accomplished in Christ, we die to sin and are made alive in Christ. We become slaves of righteousness. Our faith, if it is true faith, will produce good works.
Now, let's look at a Modus Tollens rendering of the above causal relationship:
faith ==> works
Therefore, no faith.
Aha! Notice the above does not say that works causes faith or works causes salvation. Rather, it says that faith (by which we are saved) produces works, and since works are absent, so is faith.
Therefore, law and grace are intertwined in that the Gospel of Grace, when rightly received, transforms our wills as we want to do works of the law. The works do not save us, but are a consequence of our salvation. Therefore, it now makes sense to say that faith without works is dead, for true faith does not exist without works.
A quote by Luther (who, of all people, certainly wrestled with this issue!) seems appropriate here: We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.
A certain cure for insomnia would be to read my past writings on law, grace, and works:
Under Grace, Part II
Under Grace, Part III
Reflections on Sanctification
The Balance Beam
A Good Quote on the Law
The Middle Way, Age Segregation, and A Bit of Irony
The Gospel of Grace