Knowledgia asks ‘Why did the Lithuanian Commonwealth collapse?’
The Ascension of Jesus refers to Jesus Christ bodily ascending to heaven in the presence of his apostles, forty days following his resurrection. This miraculous event is attested in the New Testament, specifically Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and Acts 1:1-12. The event transpires after Christ’s bodily resurrection following his atoning death and sacrificial atonement for the sins of mankind (John 20:17; Acts 1:3). My Reformation Study Bible, ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr., (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) offers an exposition upon “The Resurrection of Jesus” (p. 1653). Therein it notes:
Jesus’ ascension was His Father’s act of withdrawing Him from His disciples’ gaze upward (a sign of emotion) into a cloud (a sign of God’s presence, Acts 1:9-11). This act was not a form of space travel, but the next step following the Resurrection of Jesus’ return from death to the height of glory. Jesus foretold the Ascension (John 6:52; 14:2, 12; 16:5, 10, 17, 28;17:5; 20:17), and Luke described it (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11). Paul celebrates it and affirms Christ’s consequent lordship (Eph. 1:20; 4:8-10; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Tim. 3:16), and Hebrews applies this truth for encouragement of the faint-hearted (Heb. 1:3; 4:14; 9:24). Jesus Christ is the Lord of the universe, a source of enormous encouragement to all believers.
The Ascension was from one standpoint the restoration of the glory of that the Son had before the Incarnation, from another the glorifying of human nature in a way that have never happened before, and from a third the start of a reign that had not existed in this form before. The Ascension establishes three facts.
1. Christ’s Personal Ascendancy.
2. Christ’s Spiritual Omnipresence.
3. Christ’s Heavenly Ministry.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live'” (John 11:25). My Reformation Study Bible, ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr., (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) offers an exposition upon “The Resurrection of Jesus” (p. 1653). Therein it notes:
Jesus’ resurrection was a divine act involving all three Persons of the Godhead (John 10:17, 18; Acts 13:30-35; Rom. 1:4). It was not just a revival of the broken physical body that was taken from the cross and buried. It was a transformation of Jesus’ humanity that enabled Him to appear, vanish, and move unseen from one location to another (Luke 24:31, 36). It was the creative renewing of His body, to become the body that is now fully glorified and deathless (Phil. 3:21; Heb. 7:16, 24). The Son of God in heaven lives in and through His body, and will do so forever. In 1 Cor. 15:50-54, Paul envisages that Christians who are alive on earth at the moment of Christ’s return will undergo a similar transformation. Those who have died in Christ before His return will likewise be transformed never to die again.
Christianity rests on the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection as an occurrence in history. The Gospels have it as their goal, with the empty tomb and resurrection appearances, and Acts insists on it (Acts 1:3; 2:24-35; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30-32; 13:33-37).
My Reformation Study Bible, ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr., (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) offers an exposition upon “Christ the Mediator” (p. 1910). Therein it notes:
The New Testament teaches that Jesus was entirely free from sin (John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:25; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5). This assertion means not only that He never disobeyed His Father, but that He loved God’s law and found whole-hearted joy in keeping it. In fallen human beings there is always some reluctance to obey God, and sometimes resentment amounting to hatred at the claims He makes on us (Rom. 8:7). But Jesus’ moral nature was unfallen, as was Adam’s prior to his sin, and in Jesus there was no prior inclination away from God for Satan to exploit, as there is in us. Jesus loved His Father and His Father’s will with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Heb. 4:15 says that Jesus was “in all points tempted as we are,” though without sinning. The temptations we face–temptations to wrongfully engage in natural desires, to evade moral and spiritual issues, to cut moral corners and take easy ways out, to be less than loving, and sympathetic to others, to be self-centered and lost in self-pity–all these came upon Jesus, but He yielded to none of them (see “The Humanity of Jesus” at 2 John 7.) In Gethsemane and on the Cross He fought temptation and resisted sin to the point of death. Christians must learn from Him to do likewise (Luke 14:25-33; Heb. 12:3-13).
For our salvation it was necessary that Jesus be free from sin. He was “a lamb without blemish and without spot,” able to offer His “precious blood for us” (1 Pet. 1:19). If He had been sinful He would have needed a savior Himself, and His death would not have helped us. Christ obeyed on our behalf the moral commandments applying to all humanity. He also fulfilled all the will of God applying to Him in particular, as the One called to be the Messiah. His perfect obedience qualifies Him to be our all-sufficient Savior.
As the Apostle Paul said, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). My Reformation Study Bible, ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr., (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) offers an exposition upon “Christ the Mediator” (p. 1910). Therein it notes:
The saving ministry of Jesus Christ is summed up in the statement that He is the “Mediator between God and men” (1 Tim 2:5). A mediator is one who brings together parties who are out of communication and who may be alienated, estranged, or at war with each other. The mediator must have links with both sides, so as to identify with and maintain the interests of both, and represent each to the other on a basis of goodwill. Thus Moses was the mediator between God and Israel (Gal. 3:19), speaking to Israel on God’s behalf when God gave the law (Ex. 20:18-21) and speaking to God on Israel’s behalf when Israel had sinned (Ex. 32:9-33:17).
Every member of our fallen and rebellious race is by nature in “enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7), standing under God’s wrath, the punitive rejection whereby as Judge he expresses active anger against our sins (Rom. 1:18; 2:5-9; 3:5, 6). Reconciliation of the alienated is needed, but can only occur if God’s wrath is quenched and the human heart that opposes God and motivates a life against God, is changed. In mercy, God sent His Son into the world to bring about the needed reconciliation. It was not that the kindly Son acted to placate the harsh Father; the initiative was the Father’s own. In Augustine’s words “in a wonderful and divine way even when He hated us, He loved us” (Commentary on John 110:6; c.f. John 3:16; Rom. 5:5-8; 1 John 4:8-10). In all his mediatorial ministry the Son was doing His Father’s will (see “The Humble Obedience of Christ” at John 5:19).
Objectively and once for all, Christ achieved reconciliation for His people through penal substitution. On the cross He took our place, carried our identity as it were, bore the curse due to us (Gal. 3:13), and by His sacrificial shedding of blood peace for us (Eph. 2:16-18; Col. 1:20). Peace here means an end to hostility, guilty, and exposure to the retributive punishment that was otherwise unavoidable–in other words, forgiveness for all the past, and eternal, personal acceptance for the future. Those who have received reconciliation through faith in Christ are justified and peace with God (Rom. 5:1; 10). The mediators present work, which He carries forward through human messengers, is to persuade those for whom He achieved reconciliation actually to receive it (John 12:32; Rom. 15:18; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:17).
Jesus is “the Mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 9:15; 12:24), the initiator of a new relationship of conscious peace with God, going beyond what was known under the Old Testament arrangements for dealing with guilt of sin (Heb. 9:11-10:18).
The Great Commission finds its mandate in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'” (Matthew 18:18-20). My Reformation Study Bible, ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) offers an exposition upon “Christians in the World” (p. 1889). Therein it notes:
The word ‘world’ in the New Testament is sometimes used as in the Old Testament to mean this earth, the good natural order that God created. Usually, however, it designates humanity as a whole, now fallen into sin and moral disorder, radically opposed to God. People in the world incur guilt and shame by their misuse of created things. Paul can even speak of creation itself yearning for deliverance from the evil occasioned by the fall of Adam and Eve (Rom. 8:20-23).
Christians are sent into the world of fallen humanity by their Lord (John 17:18) to witness to it about God’s Christ and His Kingdom (Matt. 24:14; c.f. Rom. 10:18; Col. 1:6, 23) and to serve its needs. But they are to do so without falling victim to its materialism (Matt. 6:19-24, 32), its lack of concern about God and eternity (Luke 12:13-21) and its pursuit of pleasure and status above all else (1 John 2:15-17). The outlook and mindset of human societies reflect more of the pride seen in Satan, who for now continues to influence them (John 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19; c.f. Luke 4:5-7), than the humility seen in Christ. Christians, like Christ Himself, are to empathize with people’s anxieties and needs in order to serve them and communicate God’s love for them effectively.
Christians are to consider themselves pilgrims in this fallen world, through which they momentarily pass as they travel home to God (1 Peter 2:11). The Bible sanctions neither monastic withdrawal from this world (John 17:15) nor worldliness (Titus 2:15). Jesus encourages His disciples to match the ingenuity of the unredeemed who use their resources to further their goals, but specifies that the disciples’ proper goals have to do, not with earthly security, but with heavenly glory (Luke 16:9). Christians are to be different from those around them, observing God’s moral absolutes, practicing love, and not losing their dignity as bearers of God’s image (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:5-11). Separation from fallen humanity’s values and lifestyles is a prerequisite for practicing Christian likeness in positive terms (Eph. 4:25-5:17).
The Christian’s appointed task, therefore, is threefold. The church’s main mandate is evangelism (Matt 28:19, 20; Luke 24:46-48), and every Christian must seek to further the conversion of unbelievers, not least by the example of one’s changed life (1 Pet. 2:12). Also, love of neighbor should constantly lead the Christian into deeds of mercy for all people, believers and unbelievers alike. Finally, Christians are caleld to fulfill the ‘cultural mandate’ that God gave to mankind at creation (Gen. 1:28-30; Ps. 8:6-8). Humanity was created to mange God’s world, and this stewardship is part of the human vocation in Christ, with God’s honor and the good of others as its goal. The Protestant ‘work ethic’ is essentially a religious discipline, the fulfillment of a divine ‘calling’ to be stewards of God’s creation.
Knowing that God in providential kindness and forbearance continues, in the face of human sin, to preserve and enrich His erring world (Acts 14:16, 17). Christians are to involve themselves in all forms of lawful human activity. By acting in accord with Christian values, they will become salt (a preservative agent) and light (an illumination that shows the way) in the human community (Matt. 5:13-16). As Christians thus fulfill their vocation, they will transform the cultures around them.
Christians believe that Christ is God, or more specifically He is subsumed in God, as one of the three distinctive persons of the triune godhead. The term Deity emanates from the Latin deitatem or “divine nature”, a term espoused by Augustine of Hippo from deus (“god”). Each person of the godhead has a particular role in the redemptive history of mankind. Jesus Christ’s role came to center stage with the miracle of His Incarnation and his earthly ministry, and later atoning sacrifice, death, burial, and resurrection that made possible the redemption of a subsect of humanity on the basis of their faith in Christ. R.C. Sproul notes the following about the Deity of Jesus Christ in The Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream, IL: 2011), pp. 81-82:
Faith in the deity of Christ is necessary to being a Christian. It is an essential part of the New Testament gospel of Christ. Yet in every century the church has been forced to deal with people who claim to be Christians while denying or distorting the deity of Christ.
In church history there have been four centuries in which confession of the deity of Christ has been a crucial and stormy issue inside the church. Those centuries have been the fourth, fifth, nineteenth, and twentieth.
Since we are living in one of the centuries where heresy assaults the church, it is urgent that we safeguard the church’s confession of Christ’s deity.
At the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the church, in opposition to the Arian heresy, declared that Jesus is begotten, not made, and that His divine nature is of the same essence ( homo ousios) with the Father. This affirmation declared that the Second Person of the Trinity is one in essence with God the Father. That is, the “being” of Christ is the being of God. He is not merely similar to Deity, but He is Deity.
The confession of the deity of Christ is drawn from the manifold witness of the New Testament. As the Logos Incarnate, Christ is revealed as being not only preexistent to creation, but eternal. He is said to be in the beginning with God and also that He is God (John 1:1-3). That He is with God demands a personal distinction within the Godhead. That He is God demands inclusion in the Godhead.
Elsewhere, the New Testament ascribes terms and titles to Jesus that are clearly titles of deity. God bestows the preeminent divine title of Lord upon Him (Philippians 2:9-11). As the Son of Man, Jesus claims to be Lord of the Sabbath
(Mark 2:28) and to have authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:1-12). He is called the “Lord of glory” (James 2:1) and willingly receives worship, as when Thomas confesses, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
a.d. anno domini (year)
Paul declares that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ bodily (Colossians 1:19) and that Jesus is higher than angels, a theme reiterated in the book of Hebrews. To worship an angel or any other creature, no matter how
exalted, is to violate the biblical prohibition against idolatry. The I am s of John’s Gospel also bear witness to the identification of Christ with Deity.
In the fifth century, the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) affirmed that Jesus was truly man and truly God. Jesus’ two natures, human and divine, were said to be without mixture, confusion, separation, or division.
The deity of Christ is a doctrine essential to Christianity.
The church has had crises of heresy regarding Christ’s deity in the fourth,
fifth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.
The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) affirmed the deity of Christ, declaring that
He is of the same substance or essence as the Father and that He was not a
The New Testament clearly affirms the deity of Christ.
The Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) declared that Jesus was truly God.
Biblical passages for reflection:
R.C. Sproul notes the following about Creation in The Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Carol Stream, IL: 2011), p. 61-65:
Everything in time and space had a beginning. I had a beginning; you had a beginning. The houses we live in had a beginning. The clothes we wear had a beginning. There was a time when our houses, our clothes, cars, washing
machines, and ourselves, did not exist. They were not. Nothing could be more obvious.
Because we are surrounded by things and by people that obviously had a beginning, we are tempted to jump to the conclusion that everything had a beginning. Such a conclusion, however, would be a fatal leap into the abyss of absurdity. It would be fatal to religion. It would also be fatal to science and to reason.
Why? Did I not say that everything in time and space had a beginning?
Isn’t that the same thing as saying simply that everything had a beginning?
By no means. It is simply logically and scientifically impossible that everything had a beginning. Why? If everything that exits once had a beginning, then there had to be a time when nothing existed.
Stop for a moment to reflect. Try to imagine nothing existing. Absolutely nothing. We can’t even conceive of absolute nothingness. The very concept is merely the negation of something.
Yet, if there ever was such a time when absolutely nothing existed, what would
there be now? Right. Nothing! If ever there was nothing, then by resistless logic, there would always be nothing. There’s not even an “always” during which there could be nothing.
Why can we be so sure, indeed, absolutely certain, that if ever there was nothing then there would be nothing now? The answer is astonishingly simple, despite the fact that extremely intelligent people often stumble over the obvious. The answer is simply that you can’t get something from nothing. An absolute law of science and logic is ex nihilo nihil fit, (out of nothing, nothing comes). Nothing cannot produce anything. Nothing can’t laugh, sing, cry, work, dance, or breathe.
It certainly can’t create. Nothing can’t do anything because it isn’t anything. It doesn’t exist. It has no power whatsoever because it has no being.
For something to come out of nothing it would have to possess the power of self- creation. It would have to be able to create itself or bring itself into existence.
But that is a manifest absurdity. For something to create or produce itself it would have to be before it is. But if something already is, it doesn’t need to be created. To create itself, something would have to be and not be, exist and not exist, at the same time and in the same respect.
That is a contradiction. It violates the most fundamental of all rational and scientific laws, the law of noncontradiction.
If we know anything, we know that if anything exists now, then somehow, somewhere, something did not have a beginning. I am aware that brilliant thinkers such as Bertrand Russell, in his famous debate with Frederick Copelston, argued that the present universe is the result of an “infinite series of finite causes.” It poses an endless series, working backwards into eternity, of one caused thing causing another forever. This idea merely compounds the problem of self-creation infinitely. It is a fundamentally silly concept. The fact that it has been proposed by intelligent people makes it no less silly. It’s worse than silly.
Silly things can be real. But this concept is logically impossible.
Russell can deny the law that out of nothing, nothing comes, but he cannot refute it without committing mental suicide. We know (with logical certitude) that if anything exists now, then there must be something that did not have a beginning.
Now the question becomes what or who.
Many serious scholars believe that the answer to the what is found within the universe itself. They argue (as Carl Sagan does) that there is no need to go above or beyond the universe to find something that had no beginning from which everything else comes. That is, we need not assume something like “God” who is transcendent to the universe. The universe or something in it can do the job quite well itself. There is a subtle error lurking in the above scenario. It has to do with the meaning of the term transcendent. In philosophy and theology the idea of transcendence means that God is “above and beyond” the universe in the sense that He is a higher order of being than other beings. We commonly refer to God as the supreme Being.
What makes the supreme Being different from a human being? Notice that both concepts share a common word, being. When we say that God is the supreme Being, we are saying that He is a being who differs in kind from other ordinary
beings. What precisely is that difference? He is called supreme because He has no beginning. He is supreme because all other beings owe their existence to Him, and He owes His existence to none other than Himself. He is the eternal Creator. Everything else is the work of His creation.
When Carl Sagan and others say that in the universe, and not above it or beyond it, there is something that is not created, he is merely quibbling about the Creator’s address. He is saying that what is uncreated lives here (within the universe), not “out there” (above or transcendent to the universe). But He still requires a supreme Being. His mysterious part of the universe from which all created things come is still beyond and above everything else in the creation in terms of being. In other words, there still must be a transcendent Being. The more we probe this “within-the-universe Creator,” the more it or He begins to sound like God. He is uncreated. He creates everything else. He, or it, has the power in itself of being.
What is crystal clear is that if something exists now, then there must be a supreme Being from which all other beings come. The first assertion of the Bible is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This text is foundational to all Christian thought. It is not only a religious statement, it is a rationally necessary concept.
1. Everything in time and space has a beginning.
2. Something cannot come from nothing. Nothing cannot do anything.
3. If ever there was nothing, then nothing could exist now.
4. Something exists now; therefore something must exist that has no beginning.
5. Things cannot create themselves because they would have to be before they
6. If some “part” of the universe is uncreated, then it is superior or transcendent
to the parts that have a beginning.
7. An uncreated being is supreme (a higher order of being than created beings),
regardless of where it lives.
8. Transcendence refers to a level of being, not to geography.
Biblical passages for reflection:
My Reformation Study Bible, ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr., (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) offers an exposition upon “Jesus Christ, God and Man” (p. 1660). Therein it notes:
Trinity and Incarnation belong together. The doctrine of Trinity declares that Christ is truly divine; the doctrine of the Incarnation declares that the same Christ is also fully human. Together they proclaim the full reality of the Savior revealed in the New Testament, the Son who came from the Father’s side at the Father’s will to become the sinner’s suitable substitute on the cross (Matt. 20:28; 26:36-46; John 1:29; 3:13-17; Rom. 5:8; 8:32; 2 Cor. 5:19-21; 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8).
The doctrine of the Trinity was defined at the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), when the church countered the Arian idea that Jesus was God’s first and noblest creature by affirming that He was of the same “substance” or “essence” as the Father. The distinction between Father and Son is within the divine unity, so that the Son is God in the same sense as the Father is. In saying that Son and Father are “of one substance,” and that “the Son is begotten, not made” (echoing “only begotten,” John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18), the Nicene Creed unequivocally recognized the deity of Jesus Christ.
The church’s confession of the doctrine of the Incarnation was expressed at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), where the church countered both the Nestorian idea that Jesus was two “persons,” not one, and the Eutychian idea that Jesus’ divinity had swallowed up his humanity. Rejecting both, the Council affirmed that Jesus is one person in two natures (that is, with two sets of capacities for experience, expression, and action.) The two natures are united in Him without mixture, confusion, separation, or division, and each nature retains its own attributes. In other words, all that is in us, as well as all that is in God, is and always will be truly distinguishably present in Christ. Thus the Chalcedonian formula strongly affirms the full humanity of the Lord.
The Incarnation, the mysterious miracle at the heart of historic Christianity, is central in the New Testament witness. Jesus came first to the Jews, whose central affirmation of faith is that there is only one God. The apostles were Israelites, yet the and the writers of the New Testament taught that Jesus the Messiah should be worshipped and trusted. This is to say that He is God no less than He is man. Tit is amazing that this testimony could prevail among them.
John’s Gospel opens its eye-witness narratives (John 1:14; 19:35; 21:24) with the declaration that Jesus is the eternal divine Logos, agent of creation and the source of all light (John 1:1-5; 1:9). Through becoming “flesh,” the Logos was revealed as the Son of God and the source of “grace and truth,” “the only begotten of the Father” (1:14; 1:18). The Gospel is punctuated with “I am” statements that have special significance because “I am” was used as a divine name on account of the Greek translation of Ex. 3:14; when John reveals Jesus as the “I am,” the claim to deity is explicit. Examples of this are John 8:28, 58, and the seven declarations of Jesus as (2) the bread of life, giving spiritual food (John 6:35, 48, 51); (b) the light of the world, banishing darkness (John 8:12; 9:5); (c) the door for the sheep, giving access to God (John 10:7, 9); the good shepherd, protecting from peril (John 10:11, 14); (e) the resurrection and the life, overcoming death; (f) the way, truth, and the life, guiding to the Father (John 14:6); (g) the true vine, nurturing for fruitfulness (John 15:1, 5). Climatically, Thomas worships Jesus as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus pronounces His blessing on all who share Thomas’ faith (John 20:29-31).
Pau says about Jesus that “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9; c.f. 1:9). Paul hails Jesus the Son as the Father’s image and as His agent in creating and upholding everything (Col. 1:15-17). Paul declares Him to be “Lord,” to whom one must pray for salvation just as one calls on Yahweh (Joel 2:32; Rom. 9:10-13). Jesus is “God over all” (Rom. 9:5), our “God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). Paul prays to Him personally (2 Cor. 12:8, 9), and looks to Him as the source of divine grace (2 Cor. 13:14). The testimony is explicit: faith in Jesus’ deity is basic to Paul’s theology and religion.
My Reformation Study Bible, ed. by R.C. Sproul, Sr., (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995) offers and exposition upon “Faith and Works” (p. 1962) as it pertains to “Salvation” and “Sanctification” of the Christian believer. Therein it notes:
Faith is the means or instrument by which a person is saved. Christians are justified before God by faith (Rom. 3:26; 4:1-5; Gal. 2:16), and by faith they live their lives (2 Cor. 5:7) and sustain their hope (Heb. 10:35-12:13).
Faith cannot be defined in subjective terms, as a feeling or optimistic decision. Neither is a passive orthodoxy. Faith is a response, directed toward an object and defined by what is believed. Christian faith is trust in the eternal God and His promises secured by Jesus Christ. It is called forth by the gospel is made understandable through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is a personal act, involving the mind, heart, and will, just as it is directed to a personal God, and not an idol or an idea.
It is usual to analyze faith as involving three steps; knowledge, agreement, and trust. First is knowledge, or acquaintance with the content of the gospel; second is agreement, or recognition that the gospel is true; and third is trust, the essential step of committing the self to God. These steps go together in the sense that there can be Christian faith only when the gospel is known and it is accepted (Rom. 10:14). Calvin defined faith as “a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor towards us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Calvin, Institutes III.2.7.)
Through faith we receive Christ, who satisfied the law on our behalf. In this way we are justified through faith alone, without doing the works of the law. But since faith unites us with Christ, it cannot be lifeless. Directed toward God and resting in Him, it is active, “working through love” (Gal. 5:6), seeking to do all the “good works, which God prepared beforehand” for us (Eph. 2:10). Justification is by faith alone, but justifying faith can never be alone.
When James says that faith without works is dead, he is describing a faith that knows the gospel and even agrees with it, but has fallen short of trust in God. Failure to grow, develop, and bear the fruits of righteousness shows that the free gift of God has never been received. The answer for those with such is a faith is not to save themselves by establishing a righteousness of their own, as if they could create faith by their own efforts, but to call on the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13). God alone can save those for whom, it is otherwise impossible (Mark 10:27). Paul shows that good works cannot break this impossibility. James shows that the faith required is faith that rests in the living God.
Even when we have believed, the good works we do are never perfect. They are acceptable to God only because of the mercy of Christ (Rom. 7:13-20; Gal. 5:17). We express our love for God through doing what pleases Him, and He in His kindness promises to reward us for what what we do (Phil. 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). In this we are not making God our debtor, any more than when we first believed in Him. As Augustine noted, God in rewarding us is graciously crowning His own gracious gifts.
John Murray notes in Redemption Accomplished and Applied the essential progressive nature of sanctification, which follows true saving faith:
Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin that remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it. . . Was this not the effect in all the people of God as they came into closer proximity to the revelation of God’s holiness.
Sanctification (MP3), by Gordon H. Clark
Riches of Divine Grace: Sanctification (MP3), by S. Lewis Johnson