I vividly remember saying to my wife in bed one night, “you know, I don’t think you need to do good works to be saved.” Her response was “stop thinking and go to sleep, talk to me about it in the morning.” That was early 2006 and marked the beginning of the thaw of neonomian thought for me.
Since then, as my thinking was set straight, I’ve noticed, particularly in conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses, that James 2:17 and 2:26 are the neonomian’s key verses, shaping all theology, reading of scripture and practice as they mix faith and good works in salvation. In practice, the neonomian knows that faith without works is dead and so he works hard on doing good works to show that his faith is alive. Faith itself becomes work, something generated or stirred up within the believer, in the neonomian’s mind. That was my mistake.
I’ve found Benjamin Keach’s The Marrow of True Justification (The biblical doctrine of Justification without works) most helpful (though you need to read it a few times to get past the prose). On Romans 4:5 he writes:
To him that worketh not; That is, worketh not, thinking thereby to be justified and saved. Though he may work, i.e. lead a holy and righteous Life; yet he doth it not to merit thereby; nay, though he be wicked, and an ungodly person, and so worketh not, or hath no Moral Righteousness at all; yet if he believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted or imputed as righteousness, Not as a simple Act, or as it is a quality or habit, or in us, as the Papists teach; ipsa fides, Faith itself is counted to be a Justice, and itself is imputed unto Righteousness; No, nor in respect of the effects or fruits of it; for it is part of our Sanctification.
But as it is a hand to take hold of, or receive, or apply Christ and his Righteousness…The hand of the receiver is the Grace of justifying Faith: ‘Tis not Faith, but the Object and Righteousness Faith apprehends or takes hold of, that justifies the ungodly.