After having presented my exegesis of James 2:14ff and having shown that Antonio’s interpretation of the passage makes no sense out of the example of Abraham, I would now like to once again present the Reformed perspective concerning the nature of saving faith, but I would like to do so here using different terms. I would also like to clarify the Reformed position on perseverance and preservation in light of the nature of saving faith. Reformed theology agrees with James that faith that does not produce deeds is dead faith and cannot save. It is useless, as James tells us. We also affirm that faith which can be verified in deeds is living faith, and can indeed save.
Salvation is a “package,” if you will. It begins with God’s elective choice to save whom he foreknew. It ends with his glorification of those whom he foreknew. When we use the word “salvation” (while it can sometimes simply refer to regeneration or justification) this is what we are meaning. Justification refers to God’s forensic declaration of righteousness for those who possess faith. Sanctification refers to the process by which those who have been justified pursue good deeds by the power of the Holy Spirit in order to be continually changed into the likeness of Christ. This is the chain of redemption:
Rom 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
There is no such thing as someone who is predestined who isn’t justified, or someone who is justified but isn’t sanctified, or someone who is justified and sanctified but does not reach glorification. The passage simply does not allow for that. Salvation begins with God’s choice, and it is his sovereign decree and efficacious graces that brings it to completion.
What does this have to do with James 2 and the nature of saving faith? James tells us that there is no such thing as faith that saves but doesn’t lead to good deeds. He tells us that any “faith” which cannot be demonstrated in deeds is dead faith and does not possess the ability to save. Abraham possessed genuine, saving faith. We know this because he was shown to be righteous by his good deeds. If faith cannot be shown to be righteous, it isn’t faith. If it does not lead to deeds, it isn’t faith. If it cannot be verified by fruit, it cannot save. This is the plain message of Scripture.
In Romans 8:29-30, we see something similar being portrayed. Justification always leads to sanctification, and sanctification always leads to glorification. There is no such thing as someone who is justified but not sanctified and glorified. If it doesn’t lead to sanctification and ultimately glorification, it isn’t justification. Thus, the Reformed view of faith and perseverance and preservation in light of that faith are affirmed in this passage. If you don’t reach glorification, you weren’t justified to begin with. If you aren’t being sanctified, you weren’t justified. In the same sense that saving faith will always lead to good deeds (and necessarily so), justification will necessarily always lead to sanctification and glorification. Justification without glorification isn’t justification. The passage does not allow for it.