Counted Righteous by Works?

Believers are justified by faith. Everyone knows this (except for James).

Justification is when we are counted righteous by God. Abraham is the great example (except in James) of how Abraham “believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” That’s how it’s done.

Everyone who has every been counted righteous was counted righteous by faith.

Except Phinehas (and probably James). Phinehas? Who is Phinehas? Phinehas is the guy who speared adulterating Israelites in the act to stop a plague killing lots of Israelites.

“Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed. And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore.”

This act was counted to Phinehas for righteousness. Was he saved by faith or is this some other sort of Old Testament works salvation? I’d enjoy hearing the mental gymnastics to make Scripture coherent on this one.

(By the way, I have a theory, a fine Biblical tumbling run)

5 thoughts on “Counted Righteous by Works?”

  1. I’ll preface my response by saying I’ve only recently accepted Christ into my life, but it’s wonderful to explore all the intellectual nooks and crannies of my newfound faith.

    In my first read through the New Testament, I struggled with the book of James because all throughout the gospels and Paul’s writings you have “faith, faith, faith. Saved by faith, justified by faith. Faith!” Then James comes along and says actions are important, too. James, Jesus’s own brother!

    After having a discussion with some close friends, I decided to go to the original Greek. I discovered that in James 2:24 (“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”), the Greek for “you see” is “orate,” which is best understood as literally seeing with your eyes. Whereas Jesus may have used it imperatively (“Look! Behold!”), James uses it indicatively. So you will see a man is justified by the works that he does — our actions are the physical manifestation of our true faith. I read somewhere, though I can’t remember where unfortunately, that it’s to be understood that we’re justified by faith before God, but justified by actions before men (where we can witness and bring the gospel to others). One brings salvation, the other godly living and a tangible reality to the gospel we’re presenting to unbelievers.

    At least, that was my understanding and what I could cobble together from other peoples’ explanations.

    I’d feel a similar situation is presented in the story that you mentioned. Perhaps Phinehas was counted righteous before men, and his righteousness before God wasn’t mentioned.

  2. Righteousness can only be acquired through faith, by God’s grace. Phinehas deed must have required faith, like Abram’s act of faith to believe God, that He could fulfill His word. Our good works or deeds can’t cancel out our depraved hearts, and sinful nature, only the perfect atonement of Christ’s completed work on the cross is sufficient. I do want to hear your take on it Jeff.

  3. I know how this goes. First Jeff lets us all make fools of ourselves, then he gives us the answer! So, like the others, I’ll be a fool for Christ’s sake.

    There is only a contradiction between James and the other gospels if you interpret faith to be a belief that does nothing in you…that’s what James was contending against. When Abraham believed God, he believed to the extent of leaving behind everything he knew…it was a really active, radical reformation. That was living faith. It takes hold on the power of God in the promise, and appropriates it as a living power in the soul.

    It was no small thing for Abraham to leave all…there were no police forces or international laws to protect him and his family from being robbed or killed in their travels through a foreign land. That he could go out so boldly, shows that God was working in him. His faith opened the way for God to work.

    But even Abraham had to grow in faith, as is evidenced by his later turning to Ishmael. In the case of Ishmael, we have Abraham turning to “his own works”. But Isaac also came from Abraham’s body, so where was the difference? Why wasn’t Isaac also considered the “works of Abraham?” Because it required a miracle of God’s power, whereas Ishmael did not. Abraham had faith and works when he made Ishmael…but it was faith and human works…not faith and divine works.

    This reminds me of that statement of Luther, when the Catholics kept appealing to James to prove that works were required. Luther said, “I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kulenberg did!” He was referring to a story where a certain priest, upon running out of wood for heat in the winter, finally took a wooden statue of St. James and threw it into the fire. Luther (we hope) was protesting the unlawful use of James. The Catholics were trying to use James to justify an Ishmael.

    To profess faith in Christ these days can give you a political advantage and many friends. It’s almost fashionable. But it wasn’t so when the apostles believed. Back then, to believe in Christ was to place yourself outside of the Jewish religious community you were raised in, outside of your family and friends. You were considered a member of a dangerous cult, and your life was in danger. This helped prevent a mass of superficially converted people from joining the church and taking it over…at least for a few hundred years.

    I would say we are all in great danger of being fooled with a counterfeit faith…Jesus warned that when He returned, would He find real faith in the earth? It will be a scarce thing. The message to the last church, Laodicea, is that she thinks she has everything, but she is actually lacking the real thing.

    In the early part of my Christian experience, I thought I had true faith…I believed that the Bible was true, that God was faithful and that Jesus died for my sins. But I found it absolutely impossible to gain victory over certain temptations which troubled me almost daily. After some time of searching, God led me to understand that I did not really understand the nature of sin, the corruption of my being, and the work that God wanted to do in me. When I finally grasped it, my experience changed. That however was just the beginning. Victory over besetting sins, I believe, is one of the miracles we should absolutely expect from the gospel. These are the kinds of “works” James was talking about.

    We are “counted righteous” when we believe, because this opens the door for a righteous God to enter. We are “counted righteous” when we work because it is the same righteous God who previously entered now working through us.

  4. Nice job guys! No fools here! My answer will pop up some time today when it is scheduled to appear. But it pretty much mirrors what you guys said, particularly Josh’s answer. Nice to have your input Josh, sounds like your newfound faith is flourishing just fine!

  5. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith . . . Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith . . .


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