Dr. John Ankerberg: One of the things I would like to talk about here, and that’s with the Worldwide Church of God. Herbert W. Armstrong makes this quote, Dr. Martin. He says, “Some religious teachers tell you Christ lived a righteous life for you 1900 years ago and since you can’t keep the law, as they claim, God imputes Christ’s righteousness of 19 centuries ago to you by sort of kidding Himself that you are righteous while you are given a license to still be a spiritual criminal breaking His law. God does not impute to you something that you do not have.”
Dr. Walter Martin: Well, the problem with Herbert’s statement is that it flatly contradicts the Scripture. The Scripture says that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” [2 Cor. 5:19] Not imputing their sins to them; not charging their sins to their account. In fact, the fourth chapter of Romans is explicit, “To him that worketh not, but believes in Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” [Rom. 4:5] There’s the imputation of God’s righteousness right there. Now I am not receiving nor are you receiving Jesus’ perfect law-keeping. That’s what he is trying to make out. That’s not what the text says. We are receiving the righteousness of God Himself which is by faith. “God made Christ to be sin for us who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” [2 Cor. 5:21] That’s not law-keeping, that’s the very character of God which is charged to our account. All you have to do is read the epistle to Philemon and you find there the apostle Paul saying, “If he owes you anything charge it to my account.” [Philem. 1:18] What is that if it’s not imputation?
Dr. John Ankerberg: A lot of them say, “Well, then are you simply saying that a Christian is free to sin. Because we don’t agree with that last statement that just because we have imputed righteousness that we are free to sin. They never tell us there might be another option.” It’s like an either/or situation.
Dr. Walter Martin: Well, the Scripture says that as long as we are in the flesh we have the weaknesses, limitations and infirmities of the flesh and sin is one of them. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:8-9] “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son keeps on cleansing us [it’s an ongoing process] from all of our sins.” [1 John 1:7] So, I can’t turn around to God and say, “Whoop, now I am saved: I can sin with impunity.” God says, “Don’t try it!” First Corinthians 6:19-20, “Ye are not your own, you are bought with a price.” “I’ll execute you rather than let you sin away your salvation.” He says that very clearly in 1 Corinthians 5.
Dr. John Ankerberg: In Hebrews 11 and 12 He says He can chastise His own, too. Pretty solid.
Dr. Walter Martin: Yes, and those of us that have been through it are aware of the fact that His hand has not lost its skill.
Works vs. faith
Dr. John Ankerberg: Say something about the fact all these folks would say, “Hey, how about James 2 where He says, “Listen you’ve got faith, you’d better have some works.” [Jas. 2:17-18] If you don’t have the works, you see, and then they bring in works that it’s faith plus works. We’re not saying it’s faith plus works, we’re saying it’s faith and as a result of true faith the works will come. And people don’t seem to catch that differentiation. Maybe you could say it a different way.
Dr. Walter Martin: Okay, first of all salvation isn’t by faith, it isn’t by works, or any combination of them. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith. So first comes the grace. Well, what is grace? God saying, “I love you.” His nature is love. It is expressed in mercy. That mercy is God’s effective grace. It brings us to repentance. We turn from our sins and we exercise faith in the Lord Jesus.
Now if you take James’ context you will notice something interesting, he uses Abraham as an illustration. “Abraham our father was justified by works.” [Jas. 2:21] Now take James 2 and put it side by side with Romans 4. Paul uses the same illustration. “Abraham was justified by faith.” [Rom. 4:3, 9] Ah, now we’ve got it. There is a justification by faith and there is a justification by works. The justification by faith is before God because He alone can see that faith in us. The justification by works is that the world sees our faith in our works. Remember when Abraham raised the knife over Isaac? Well, he said, “I have faith.” The world couldn’t believe it until the knife started down, then they believed it. So we are justified before the world on the basis of our works; we are justified before God on the basis of our faith. The Scripture says in Romans 4 that Abraham was already righteous in the sight of God before he was even circumcised because God saw his faith. [Rom 4:9-12]
Dr. John Ankerberg: Alright, right along this line there are a lot of folks that go to, I think John 8, and they talk about Jesus’ statement, “These are the works of God that you believe on Him.” And then out of that statement “these are the works,” they say belief is a work.
Dr. Walter Martin: No, it’s not John 8, it’s John 6:29. “This is the work of God that you believe on Him whom God has sent.” In other words they asked Jesus, “What must we do to work the works of God?” [John 6:28] His answer is quite relevant and telling, He says, “This is the work of God.” He drops the plural. “The work of God: Believe.” So Jesus was really saying, “Do you want to know what it is to perform God’s works? Accept me.” And that’s the end of the discussion.
Dr. John Ankerberg: And because it is singular you can’t add something to it. Dr. Walter Martin: You cannot.
Editor’s note: In 1983 we asked Dr. Walter Martin, author of The Kingdom of the Cults, to comment on what various groups believe about The Bible, God, Jesus, Salvation, and a number of other topics. This article is excerpted from that interview. Some groups mentioned may have changed names, disbanded, or modified their beliefs since this interview took place.