Holiness Unto the Lord

HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD:  THE CONTRIBUTION OF LEVITICUS

Introduction

            What can the third book of Moses contribute to modern Christian theology? Often, this Old Testament book with its restrictions on eating shellfish and the mixing of fabrics is overlooked because these practices seem odd – even obsolete – for today’s believer. However, this sometimes-neglected book contains rich principles for the Christian community concerning the concept of God’s holiness and how it should influence their lives. Kendell H. Easley writes, “Holiness throughout Scripture, but especially in Leviticus, is the first attribute of God.”[1] This main emphasis in Leviticus is twofold: the holiness of God and what God’s holiness requires of those people in relation to Him. Although it may be an oversimplification, the message of Leviticus is encapsulated in a single verse located in its eleventh chapter.  The author of the book records, “For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (NASB Lev 11:45).  By analyzing Israel’s call to holiness in this verse, an individual can witness that God’s holiness is the foundation of which those who are sovereignly called to relationship with Him are deemed holy. Thus they should live considering their connectedness to Him.

“…for I am holy.”

            First, to properly understand the concept of holiness presented in Leviticus, one must know the wellspring of holiness. In short, God’s holiness is the foundation of the sacredness of people, places, and things in Leviticus. It is the divine presence which sanctifies and sets apart the land, the children of Israel, and the various objects associated with Old Testament Tabernacle/Temple worship. Nevertheless, what does it mean that God is holy? In 2 Samuel, Hannah’s song of thanksgiving gives clues to the meaning of the holiness of God. The author of 1 Samuel writes, “There is no one holy like the LORD, Indeed, there is no one besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God” (NASB 1 Sam 1:1). In this verse, God is celebrated for His complete uniqueness from all of the creation. Israel’s God is the quintessence of absolute perfection in every way. Easley writes, “It [holiness] refers to his glorious moral perfections as the One who is the standard of ethical purity.”[2] There is nothing, or no one comparable to God, and His holiness is the crux of this uniqueness.

Therefore, true biblical holiness is only found in relation to this all-perfect deity. God possesses the divine prerogative to demand sanctified actions or obedience. Based on His absolute perfection and uniqueness God issues instructions concerning the holiness of those called into relationship with Him. Some may argue the commands of God are a bit overreaching. However, He is the perfect Holy One and humanity is not. He is their source of being and salvation; not the other way around.

“…thus you shall be holy…”

            First, with the holiness of God in mind, this key verse reveals that God longs for fellowship with fallen humanity. The author writes, “For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God…” (NASB Lev 11:45). God’s holiness is communicable to those people and objects which encounter His divine presence. David P Wright observes, “…contact with something most holy communicates holiness (Exod. 29:37; 30:29; Lev 6:27; [Heb 6:20]).”[3] Thus, Israel’s holiness is in correlation to their connectedness to the foundational holiness of God

Secondly, although God demands wholehearted obedience to His holy decrees, Israel’s holiness is not dependent on her producing holiness by acts of obedience. Rather Israel’s action was to be tempered by the holiness they received by being associated with the Holy One. Terrance E Fretheim writes,

It is important to stress that Israel’ holiness is a reality; it is not something to be aimed at or striven for, or to be associated only with worship.  The call to be “holy” is a call to be true to the relationship in which the people already stand (be who you are). The fundamental way in which the people do justice to this relationship is in obeying the commandments, which for Leviticus means being faithful to God in worship and in life (see 19:2 and what follows).[4]

In other words, the obedience to the God’s command was to be a practical outworking of their relationship with their God. They were deemed holy because of His presence being among them. This communicable nature of holiness is the reason that temple utensils, land, cities, and people were considered sacred before God.

On the other hand, Israel could disrupt this holy relationship by failing to observe God’s commandments. Robert A Kugler writes, “…impurity seems to have been understood to cast the shadow of death over its bearers: the most severe experiences of impurity are the ones that would have been seen as the inappropriate loss of life-force from the individual.”[5] God’s reputation of holiness could be called into question by the nations surrounding Israel if the holiness code was not followed. God’s holiness demanded a holy set apart lifestyle on Israel’s behalf. This is the reason God implemented a sacrificial system to alleviate the wrath incurred by disobedience. This system of atonement would eventually be done away with by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. With these foundational principles concerning holiness in the book of Leviticus, attention needs to turn to the how they apply to New Testament believers.

Principles of Levitical Holiness for New Testament Believers

            First, although the Old Testament sacrificial system has been fulfilled and removed through Christ’s atoning work and the veil of separation was torn to symbolize access into the holy of holies (i.e. God’s presence), God has not lowered His standards. Rightly so, He still demands holiness unto the Lord. The Apostle Peter reiterates this command to holiness as he writes,

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (NASB 1 Pet 1:13-16).

The communicable attributes of holiness are still relevant for those under the New Covenant even though the ancient cultic worship is obsolete. Modern day Christians are still deemed holy by their relation to the presence of God. The difference is that the presence of God indwells them under the New Covenant. Apostle Paul confirms this as he writes, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (NASB 1 Cor 3:16-17). What was external ritual under the Old Testament has now been internalized in the New Testament.

How should the knowledge of God’s indwelling affect the attitudes and actions of Christians? Levitical offering, sacrifices, and feasts were all types shadows which pointed to the finished work of Christ. Paul confirms this with his statement in Romans. He writes, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (NASB Rom 15:4).  Understanding the principles put forth long ago in the book of Leviticus should motivate Christians to practically exercise what has been given to them with their new position in Christ. We should put away the works of the flesh, not because this makes us more holy, but rather because Christ’s presence has already made us holy before God the Father.

Conclusion

            In conclusion, the principles of holiness found in the often-overlooked book of Leviticus can give valuable insights into the concept of the holiness of God and how it pertains to His people. By examining a key verse of Leviticus 11:45, it becomes apparent the foundation for the holiness of God’s people is established by God’s very own holy presence. This communicable holiness should impact the manner in the way people perceive their standing with God, thus influencing their actions accordingly. In short, although the conditions of Leviticus were fulfilled in Christ, it is still Holiness unto the Lord.


[1] Kendell H. Easley, Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding the Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 200), 23.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] David P. Wright, “Holiness in Leviticus and Beyond: Differing Perspectives,” Interpretation 53, no. 4 (October 1999): 351-364, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 9, 2016), 352-353.

[4] Terrance E Fretheim, The Pentateuch, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 134-135.

[5] Robert A. Kugler,  “Holiness, Purity, the Body, and Society: The Evidence for Theological Conflict in Leviticus,” Journal For The Study Of The ld Testament 22, no. 76 (December 1997): 3-27, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 9, 2016), 14.




BIBLIOGRAPHY

Easley, Kendell H. Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding the Bible. Nashville, TN. Holman Bible Publishers.

Fretheim, Terrance E. The Pentateuch. Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press. 1996.

Kugler, Robert A. “Holiness, Purity, the Body, and Society: The Evidence for Theological Conflict in Leviticus.” Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament 22, no. 76 (December 1997): 3-27. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 9, 2016).

Wright, David P. “Holiness in Leviticus and Beyond: Differing Perspectives.” Interpretation 53, no. 4 (October 1999): 351-364. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 9, 2016).

A Dynamic Faith: A Glimpse at Salvation in James

A Dynamic Faith: A Glimpse at Salvation in James

Introduction

            Is the Apostle James guilty of propagating a rogue soteriology of works? Many biblical scholars, especially since Reformation, have wrestled with the content of the epistle he penned to the twelve dispersed tribes centuries ago. Allen Cabaniss writes, “Because of Luther’s flippant remark that it was ‘an epistle of straw’ in comparison with the Pauline correspondence, it has endured a kind of official disdain.”[1] However, is this a fair assessment of how James viewed salvation? In fact, how does the Apostle James view the soteriological experience? By examining key passages in the Epistle of James, one can correctly interpret James’ soteriological view of a dynamic faith, thus revealing the important biblical connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

For the ease of communicating the author’s point to the reader, this work will utilize the metaphors of seed, root, and fruit as it focuses on James 1:17-21; 22-27; 2:14-26. Within these pericopes, one can find the source (or seed) of salvation in James’ theology, the source (or root) of good works in the lives of believers, and argument for the necessity of works (or fruit) as evidence of genuine faith.

The Seed of Salvation is the Word (1:17-21)

            First, to build a foundation on which James erects his soteriology he identifies the source of salvation. He writes, “In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (NRSV Jas 1:18). It is apparent in this verse; James sees salvation as a gift from God by the “word”. This “word of truth” is the gospel of Jesus Christ. God sows the seed of salvation in the heart of the individual believer. Alexander Stewart states, “Salvation, at every stage, requires both God’s saving initiative in bringing Christian’s forth by the word of truth (1:18) and their reception of that word (1:21)…”[2] The notion of the reception of the word brings another vital aspect of James’ salvation experience.

Secondly, God initiates salvation by sowing the seed of the word, but humans must respond in repentance. James writes, “Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls” (NRSV Jas 1:21). The welcoming of the seed of salvation produces repentance or the first works of salvation. Alexander states, “The holistic human response envisioned by James primarily indicates persevering, wholehearted obedience and devotion to God.”[3] It is the “implanted word” or the gospel message, which the individual obtains the power to experience dynamic salvation. For James, it is the liberating seed, which when allowed to take root produces the works of salvation. This brings up the admonition James puts forth to his audience, “But be doers of the word…” (NRSV Jas 1:22), which will be the topic of the next section.

The Root of Good Works is Salvation (1:22-27)

            First, once upon receiving the “implanted word”, the individual must continue to interact with it. James writes, “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing” (NRSV Jas 1:25). Is James teaching a legalistic salvation? No. Howell Haydn explains,

He who calls himself the “slave” of Jesus Christ (Jas 1:1) must have accepted his ideals; James’ conception of the meaning of his Master’s life and teaching. Therefore, the law in the heartfelt obedience to which James finds the noblest ideal of Christian living was the moral law as Jesus deepened it. …The emphasis therein is not upon the letter of the law, but upon its spirit; to obey its mandates is not only to refrain from the sinful act forbidden, but also and especially to master the evil passion of the soul from which the act proceeds. [4]

Thus, the “perfect law of liberty” is not the ceremonial Jewish commands of the Old Testament, but rather the gospel message of love. For James, salvation is only complete and fully experienced when one receives and follows the commands of Christ.

However, James is not advocating a list of rules to follow in order to enter salvation. He is arguing that the actions viewed in a believer’s walk is a result of having received the word and allowing is to take root. John MacArthur explains, “James is not merely challenging his readers to do the Word: he is telling them that real Christians are doers of the Word. That describes the basic disposition of those who believe unto salvation.”[5] James continues by illustrating the actions of one with a pure religion by bridling their tongues, caring for orphans and widows, and displaying a personal piety. Witnessing how the reception of the seed of the word is the source of all good works in the believer’s life it is time to look closer at the fruit, which proceeds from this root.

The Fruit of Salvation is Works (2:14-26)

            First, how does James recognize genuine faith?  In other words, what is the fruit of salvation? James clarifies the importance of works as the evidence of a person’s salvation experience. He begins by stating, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” (NRSV Jas 2:24).  Although, many have argued James is negating salvation by faith, this could not be further from the truth. James is refuting a workless faith. Many have used the term “mental assessment” to describe the faith James disputing.

For clarification, the NASB translates this verse as stating, “What use is it, my brethren if someone says he has faith but he has not works? Can that faith save him?” (NASB Jas 2:14).  The contributors of the New Bible Commentary: Revised edition write, “The claim to faith is unsupported by evidence of its reality, for there is no discernable evidence…”[6]  The Apostle views salvation as a dynamic experience, which manifest itself through good works. If these acts are non-existence, the person does not possess true saving faith. After illustrating the absurdity of this false faith claim, he states, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (NRSV Jas 2:17). Warren Wiersbe writes, “People with dead faith substitute words for deeds. They know the correct vocabulary …but their walk does not measure up to their talk.” [7]Simply put James teaches works will accompany genuine saving faith.

Secondly, James further illustrates the importance of an active faith by introducing an objection to his claim for faith and works. He writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (NRSV Jas 1:18). Jane Heath in her work, The Righteous Gentile Interjects, give two plausible interpretations of this interlocutor. They are as follows: 1) the interlocutor has heard James’ challenge to the person who claims faith but has no works, and challenging James as to whether he really has faith. James replies by appeal to his works. 2) The ‘someone’ attributes faith to one person, works to another, and it is precisely in thus dividing them James finds fault in him.[8] Either assumption reveals the importance in the soteriological framework of James the interconnectedness of both faith and works.

Furthermore, James refutes the notion of just receiving orthodox teaching without actions. He writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder” (NRSV Jas 1:19). Faith is more than proper knowledge. MacArthur states, “There is a faith that may be commended as orthodox and yet have no more saving value than the faith of demons.”[9] James advocates true faith will move one from orthodoxy to orthopraxy. C. Ryan Jenkins states, “James…was contrasting a dead faith (which is only intellectual assent) with a living faith that produces works and subsequently vindicates that profession.”[10] He illustrates his point by alluding to the actions of the Old Testament characters of Abraham and Rahab.

This dynamic faith, which progresses beyond orthodoxy to orthopraxy, spans the breadth of the entire epistle. For example, a true believer will avoid the sins of partiality, sins of the tongue, the misuses of riches, personal piety, and the caring for orphans and widows. This is only to name a few areas James’ soteriology overlaps with personal actions in the epistle. However, how does this epistle compare to the canon of the New Testament?

Relation to the New Testament

            First, since much ink has been spilled over the relation between the James and Paul’s view of salvation, it is only logical to begin at this point. Although, some would contend there is a discrepancy between the two biblical authors, this is only a misconception. Both authors are looking at the same coin, but from opposite points of view. Ritchie Smith writes,

The decisive fact is that James and Paul regard faith and works – true faith and good works – are inseparable, though Paul emphasizes the one and James the other. Paul affirms that works without faith are dead; James affirms that faith without works is dead. Paul discovers no value in works except as the fruit of faith; James discovers no value in faith except as the root of works. [11]

This is no contradiction between these two authors when it comes to salvation only different vantage points.  Paul writes, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (NRSV Eph 2:10). It is apparent Paul too; realized the seed of the word and once this seed takes root it produces good works.

Secondly, many fail to see the correlation the Epistle of James has with the Gospel of Matthew. Matthias Konradt states, “Despite the affinity between the texts, their fates have been extremely different: whereas the Sermon on the Mount always belonged to the basic texts of Christianity, the epistle of James was marginalized for the most part.”[12]  So, what is the affinity Konradt mentions? Massey Shepherd explains,

So much attention has been given to this passage in James in relation to the Pauline doctrine of justification, that it is commonly overlooked how exactly James’s doctrine fits the teaching of Matthew. Not only do the Q sayings of Matt. 7:21 and 7:26, already treated in the discourse on hearing and doing, apply here, but there is a fundamental similarity in the teaching of James with the peculiarity Matthaen parable of the Two Sons (Matt. 21:28), not to speak once more of the “works of mercy” suggested by the judgment scene of Matt. 25:31.”[13]

When one correctly understands the argument that James is putting forth it is easy to see he is not a heretic propagating a rogue gospel of works. He is one voice, although often misunderstood, in the cacophony of New Testament writers.

Conclusion

            In conclusion, James is not submitting to a salvation of works, but rather a salvation unto works. In his soteriological view, God gives the new birth by the seed of the word of truth (1:18). Once this word is received or allowed to take root in the believer, it is the source of good works. The fruit of salvation is discernable works, which has direct relations to the “implanted word” (1:21). After examining key texts, true salvation leads to a dynamic faith, which bridges orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

LISTEN TO THIS SUBJECT AS PRESENTED AT WEST GREEN BAPTIST CHURCH 


           

[1] Allen Cabaniss, “Epistle of Saint James,” Journal Of Bible And Religion 22, no. 1 (January 1954): 27-29. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2016), 27.

[2] Alexander Stewart, “James, soteriology, and synergism,” Tyndale Bulletin 61, no. 2 (2010 2010): 293-310, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016), 303.

[3] Alexander Stewart, “James, soteriology, and synergism”, 294.

[4] Howell Haydn, “Three Conceptions of the Christian Life, A Study in the Epistles of James, I Peter, and I John”, The Biblical World 23 (1),  University of Chicago Press: 16–23, http://0-www.jstor.org.library.acaweb.org/stable/3141050.

[5] John MacArthur, “Faith according to the apostle James,” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 1 (March 1990): 13-34, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016), 17.

[6] Donald Guthrie et al, New Bible Commentary: Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter – Varsity Press, 1967), 1228.

[7] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003), 864.

[8] Jane Heath, “The Righteous Gentile Inteijects (James 2:18-19 and Romans 2:14-15),” Novum Testamentum 55, no. 3 (July 2013): 272-295, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016),275.

[9] John MacArthur, Faith According to the Apostle James, 17.

[10] C Ryan Jenkins, “Faith and works in Paul and James,” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 633 (January 2002): 62-78. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016),66.

[11] Smith, J. Ritchie. 1899. “The Gospel in the Epistle of James”. Journal of Biblical Literature 18 (1/2). Society of Biblical Literature: 144–55. doi:10.2307/3268971.

[12] Matthias Konradt, Review of A Spirituality of Perfection. Faith in Action in the Letter of James; Has God Not Chosen the Poor? the Social Setting of the Epistle of James; Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom, Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 182–89. doi:10.2307/3268102, 184.

[13] Massey H. Shepherd, “The Epistle of James and the Gospel of Matthew”, Journal of Biblical Literature 75 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 40–51. doi:10.2307/3261520, 45.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cabaniss, Allen. “Epistle of Saint James.” Journal Of Bible And Religion 22, no. 1 (January 1954): 27-29. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 11, 2016).

Guthrie, Donald et al. New Bible Commentary: Revised. Grand Rapids, MI: Inter – Varsity Press, 1967.

Haydn, Howell M.. 1904. “Three Conceptions of the Christian Life. A Study in the Epistles of James, I Peter, and I John”. The Biblical World 23 (1). University of Chicago Press: 16–23. http://0-www.jstor.org.library.acaweb.org/stable/3141050.

Heath, Jane. “The Righteous Gentile Inteijects (James 2:18-19 and Romans 2:14-15).” Novum Testamentum 55, no. 3 (July 2013): 272-295. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Jenkins, C Ryan. “Faith and works in Paul and James.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 633 (January 2002): 62-78. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Konradt, Matthias. 2003. Review of A Spirituality of Perfection. Faith in Action in the Letter of James; Has God Not Chosen the Poor? the Social Setting of the Epistle of James; Logos and Law in the Letter of James: The Law of Nature, the Law of Moses, and the Law of Freedom. Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 182–89. doi:10.2307/3268102.

MacArthur, John. “Faith according to the apostle James.” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 33, no. 1 (March 1990): 13-34. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Shepherd, Massey H.. 1956. “The Epistle of James and the Gospel of Matthew”. Journal of Biblical Literature 75 (1). Society of Biblical Literature: 40–51. doi:10.2307/3261520.

Stewart, Alexander. “James, soteriology, and synergism.” Tyndale Bulletin 61, no. 2 (2010 2010): 293-310. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 4, 2016).

Wiersbe, Warren. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary .Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2003.