Does faith lead to works? How do faith and repentance relate to one another?

Accusations, Assurance, and James 2: A Critique of Zane Hodges’ “The Gospel Under Siege”, pt. 1

This is the first of what I hope to be a thorough review and critique of major contributions to the Easy-Believism literature. The first book I am reviewing is The Gospel Under Siege by Zane Hodges.1

I admit I enjoy his writing style because of its clarity and common sense way of explaining things. However, it is at the expense of the plain reading of the text. Within you will find such statements as death not meaning eternal hell, distinguishing between having eternal life and having eternal life in you, and that Jesus’ preaching of repentance was meant for the Jews of that period only. It seems that Hodges will do anything to a passage to make it say what he wants. To cover this up, he often shames his readers away from the Lordship interpretation by statements like (again paraphrasing), “The author could not have put it any plainer,” or “To ignore this is to ignore all common sense.” These statements are empty, however, if not backed up with clear, faithful exegesis.

In this post we shall cover the first three chapters.

Chapter 1- Is the Lordship View Works-Based?

Accusation of Lordship Salvation being works-based

In chapter one he places Lordship Salvation on the same plane as the circumcision doctrine of the Jerusalem Counsel (p. 3). He compares those who say, “Unless you yield your life to the Lordship of Christ, you cannot be saved,” with the Judaizers (p. 3). The author blatantly declares Lordship Salvation as works-based. He groups it with being saved by baptism (p. 3, see Chapter 8).

He outright calls it contrary to what he calls the biblical gospel. “The true saving gospel stands in profound and majestic contrast: ‘And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely’ (Rev. 22:17)” (p. 4).2

Chapter 2- Can We Have Assurance?

In this chapter he deals with the issue of assurance. He claims that it is impossible to know for sure that you are saved if works are a necessary evidence. Basically, if I can exercise faith, but could later on in life by apostasy show that I never had faith, how can I be sure that my faith now is legitimate? How do I know I won’t fall away? This dilemma has probably crossed every Christian’s mind in times of dry spells. It seems like a credible argument against the Lordship view. However, it solves nothing (and is completely ridiculous) to say that one who believes but falls away and dies as an unbeliever is still saved (which Hodges believes).

Further, there are passages which show legitimate concern that members of churches are not saved. There are passages that show a faith that springs up for a while but is chocked by pleasures of this world. But the Bible does not leave us helpless. We need not lose sleep. Paul says that we can know our faith is legitimate by the presence of the Spirit within us (2 Cor. 13:5 in context); Peter says that our good works will provide assurance of our election (2 Pet. 1:10 in context); and James says that good works evidence genuine faith (Jas. 2:14-26). The only way Hodges’ accusation can stand against Lordship Salvation is to distort these passages that grant believers assurance of genuine faith and perseverance based on the evidence of good deeds, which he seeks to do to no avail.

Another accusation of works-based salvation

Sadly he once more mistakes Lordship Salvation for a works-based salvation. He says, “If works are elevated to the level of a co-condition with faith, then they are clearly indispensable to assurance” (p. 9)3. Yet if the author read anything by John MacArthur or others, he would know that to us works are not a co-condition. Thankfully, in the following two sentences he parallels this statement with two closer representations of our view (the same thing happens on p. 11). However, the presence of this statement show he does not have a sound understanding of Lordship Salvation, but only his own Straw Man caricature.

A believer not guaranteed perseverance

On pages 11-12 he deals with Romans 8:13 and 1 Corinthians 9:27 to disprove the idea that “the believer also knows at the moment of faith that he will persevere in good deeds” (p. 11). Granting that Romans 8:13 speaks of believers4, that is a correct assessment, for those passages show potential for believers to “die” or to be “disqualified”. However, that is not a popular position among Lordshippers, but is perhaps only a hypothetical rebuke he is imposing onto us. In fact, he is debunking the opposite of Lordship Salvation, because we agree that the believer needs to persevere in good deeds himself. We believe that one’s faith may not persevere.

No repentance in John 4?

On page 14, he mentions the woman at the well in John 4. He states that the Lord did not add a condition that he end her “illicit liaisons”. Sure, stopping sexual immoral acts will never repay for her past. Sure, the faith she exercised in Jesus’ Messiahship was the only thing that saved her. However, what does Hodge have to say about the many warnings against sexual immorality and commands to flee them? What about Paul calling the incestuous man in 1 Corinthians 5 a “so-called brother” (v. 11)? What about “fornicators…and adulterers…will [not] inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)? Or “those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21)? Or “know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person…has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:5)?5

Again, Jesus did not require her to end her current immoral relationship in order to be saved, but clearly He expects that she immediately would upon returning home. Wouldn’t He give her the same warning He gave the adulterous woman, “From now on sin no more” (John 8:11)?

No repentance in John 3:16?

On pages 17-18 he deals with John 3:16. He gets into the preceding context when Jesus mentions the bronze serpent in Numbers 21. He makes the connection that salvation is as easy as looking to Christ and nothing else. However, in that original passage, we see that God is affected by the sins of Israel. Yahweh is angry with Israel for being “impatient” (Num. 21:4) and for “speaking against God” (Num. 21:5). Also important to note is that before God had Moses make the serpent, the people repented (Num. 21:7)! Although the remedy required no work on their part (we can’t concoct an antidote), before God would provide it there needed to be a change of mind and turning from sin on their part.

As for John 3:16 itself, yes, salvation is by believing, but the following context points to forsaking sin. Verse 19 says that people will not come to Christ because they love sin, and verses 20-21 say that those who come to faith show forth good deeds. Note that in this chapter Hodges is selective and avoids the plethora of passages that mention repentance.

Chapter 3- Dealing with James 2

He now deals with the idea of dead faith found in James 2. May I say at the outset that a common sense reading of that passage beyond any shadow of a doubt teaches Lordship Salvation. There is no way anyone can honestly read this passage and, with integrity, come to a different conclusion. Clearly Hodges and the others are reading their preconceived theology into the text. But, since every doctrine has its problem passages, let us be fair to Hodges’ and see if his logic stands.

The one with dead faith was once alive?

On page 20 he addresses James’ illustration of a dead body (Jas. 2:26), saying, “If we allow this illustration to speak for itself, then the presence of a dead faith shows that the faith was once alive.” He concludes this from the fact that a dead body was once alive. This is the common mistake exegetes make of stretching illustrations too far. It is impossible for every aspect of a parable or illustration to perfectly match its corresponding doctrine. James is talking about a body that is dead now, having no spirit now, being dead as a result of that lack of spirit. That is as far as his picture goes. James has no concern for what the body was like before it was dead. Further, the Bible elsewhere explains that the spiritually dead were dead up until that point. In 1 John 2:9, the apostle tells us that a professing believer who hates his brother is “in darkness until now” (emphasis mine; see also 1 John 2:19).

Is the saving physical or spiritual?

He goes on a tangent for a while showing how this passage connects with the context starting all the way back in 1:21. He does so in an attempt to show that the “saving” and “dead faith” in this passage is not referring to conversion and lostness. He takes the “saving your soul” in 1:21 as saving one’s life due to the fact that James is writing to “brethren” (who do not need their souls saved), and because a common use of the same Greek word is indeed “life”. He seems to think that James’ flow of thought in 1:21 is “If you do these things (including receiving the Word), you will save your life.” However, the flow is not that doing these things saves, but that the Word they are to receive saves: “Do these things and receive the Word—that Word which is able to save your life/soul.”

The author chooses not to deal with other key phrases in Chapter 1 that deal with the lostness of idle, merely nominal Christians. James says that those who only hear, but does not act upon, God’s Word “delude themselves” (James 1:22) and that they deceive their own hearts (James 1:26). He also calls these peoples’ religion “worthless” (James 1:26).They delude and deceive themselves about what? That they are truly saved, religious people, of course! How is their religion worthless? It cannot save them. One cannot hear these words of James without remembering Jesus’ words at the end of The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:24-27). Jesus says that people who hear His words but do not act on them are like foolish men who build their houses on sand. When the storm comes—which is a reference to the Day of Judgment, not merely trials in life—the house is blown over and destroyed.

Hodges’ take on James 2:18-19

Another exegetical mistake he makes is taking verses 18-19 in their entirety as the words of the imaginary objector James anticipates (p. 27). He does so to avoid the legitimacy of the demonic faith comment. “Since the assertion in verse 19 about the belief of men and demons are the words of the objector—not of James!—their frequent use to make a theological point is totally misguided” (p. 27).

There is one interesting thing to note in his translation (which he does himself from the Greek in this case). He translates the second sentence, “Show me your faith by your works, and I will show you, from my works, my faith” (p. 27). He translates it, “by your works” (emphasis mine). Note that no major translation reads that way.6 They instead translate the thought “without” or “apart from” works. This is not because Hodges mistakes choris for ek, but because he is selective about the manuscripts. According to Moo, however, the textual evidence for Hodges’ translation is lacking.7

But also notice that his translation then becomes nonsensical. By translating the word “by”, he then makes the first part of the sentence mean the exact same thing as the second, whereas they are supposed to oppose one another. Reread his translation. The objector will show James his faith by his works, and James will show the objector his faith by his works. This would not be an objection at all, for James and the objector are doing the same thing. Also, it does not even fit Hodges’ interpretation of the objection! According to him, the objector’s argument is to show that one can no more show that they have faith by works than one can show that they have works by their faith (p. 28).

So what truly is going on in James 2:18-19? Only the first part, “You have faith and I have works,” contains the objection. James has shown that faith by itself, if not accompanied by works, is a dead faith. The imaginary objector, trying to justify his work-less faith, objects that some Christians have works while others have faith, and both are just fine before God.

James then turns to the objector and says, “Oh yeah? You say you have faith? Go ahead and try to prove it without doing any good deeds. I, on the other hand, will prove that I have have by my deeds.” Then, to drive home that the objectors’ faith that does not have corresponding works does not save, he points to an example of work-less faith that does not save, of which his readers would certainly be aware—demons! Demons have faith in one God just like this objector does, but does that faith save them? No, because the works they do are evil. So too, these people who have faith but not works are also lost, and ought to shudder at the coming judgment of God.

Hodges’ take on Rahab

He moves on to the example of Rahab. He points to her as a “striking example of a person whose physical life was ‘saved’ precisely because she had works” (p. 32, emphasis mine). He quotes another passage concerning Rahab, Hebrews 11:31, which says that she did not perish with Jericho. Yes, it was her physical life that is said to have been saved and not her soul, per se. However, we must not forget that the cause of Jericho’s destruction was God’s judgment! Hodges unwittingly admits this on p. 33, saying, “The inhabitants of Jericho perished under the divine judgment which Israel executed.”

We must be careful in how we read the Old Testament. The distinct, heaven and hell afterlife we learn of in the New Testament did not exist then. Further, salvation was seen as physical back then (although salvation of soul occurred in every believer), whereas in the New Testament (although there are references to physical salvation) the primary salvation mentioned is that of the soul. Thus, when we read of Rahab’s physical life being spared, we can see it as a type of (or even evidence of) her soul being saved. God spared her life because He looked upon her with favor and did not want to judge her.

He tries to find significance in James’ statement that she let the spies go, whereas the author of Hebrews commends her for taking the spies into her home. He draws too much from this and concludes that the author of Hebrews was talking about her initial act of faith (for our purposes, the moment she became a Christian), but James is talking about her actions after her initial act (works of a believer). Thus he shows that the justification of Rahab that James mentions is not receiving eternal life by a faith that works. This is reading too much into the passage, for James did not have Hebrews in mind as he wrote it, and vice versa. Clearly Rahab’s taking in the spies and sending them out another way are to be seen as one action.

The author’s intent

But with all of this, let us keep James’ intent in mind. Abraham’s and Rahab’s actions proved that they had faith. He seeks to point out through their examples that a person is declared to be right (justified) not merely by their own claim, “Oh, sure, I believe in Jesus!” but only when their claim is backed up by good deeds, which are the true evidence of faith and a genuine believer.

-Steve Rohn

1Hodges, Zane C. The Gospel Under Siege: A Study on Faith and Works (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1988).

2He repeats this verse to the same end on pages 14 and 37 also.

3 On page 22 he again misrepresents our view, describing it, “…faith and works were both conditions for reaching heaven.”

4 I do not think the verse refers to believers. The very next verses show that those who live according to the flesh are not sons of God, adopted, having God as their Father, etc. Also, note the parallel with living according to the flesh vv4-9. The contrasts in verses 4-6 between those in the flesh and in the Spirit are clear. Verses 7-8, referring to those who are living according to the flesh, clearly describes the status of an unbeliever, i.e. as an enemy of God. Verse 9 says that the Spirit is not in those who live according to the flesh.

5 Hodges does deal with some of these passages later on, trying to justify his heresy. We will deal with those at that time. For now, let the Word speak for itself: clearly Hodges is wrong.

7Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 128-9.

What do you think?