[Click here to read a sermon that touches the subject more superficially (easier to understand).]
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH ALONE
The Bible makes clear that a godless sinner is justified by faith alone, when he initially comes to Christ. No merits (good deeds) can save him at that moment, since he has shown, by transgressing God’s law (1 John 3:4), that he hated God.
He can only put his trust on God’s willingness to pardon sinners like him.
As it is written:
“Christ died for us when we were unable to help ourselves. We were living against God, but at just the right time Christ died for us. Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.”
– Romans 5:6-8 (ERV, link added)
‘What about Abraham, our early father? What did he learn? If Abraham was made right with God by what he did, he would have had something to be proud of. But he could not be proud before God. The Holy Writings say, “Abraham put his trust in God and that made him right with God.” If a man works, his pay is not a gift. It is something he has earned. If a man has not worked to be saved, but has put his trust in God Who saves men from the punishment of their sins, that man is made right with God because of his trust in God.
just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”’
– Romans 4:1-5 (NLV),6-8 (ESV)
To repeat again, the Scriptures are clear that a godless sinner cannot work to be saved by God, because He is guilty before God. He can only be saved by putting his faith in (the grace of) God. To this extent, sola fide is correct (that’s why I put it under the “starter sola’s“). A sinner is justified through faith alone, only by God’s grace. But after this, he is a Christian: a follower of Christ. I believe that James declares, in his Epistle, that In due time, a follower of Christ will receive the “second justification”, if he keeps on following Christ: justification by works (not apart from God’s grace). (Check “Contradiction with Justification by Works?” below and read James chapter 2.)[*!]
That’s why, in my opinion, this sola was an overreaction, against the pharisaical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. The sacerdotal inventions (extrabiblical works) which the Roman Catholic Church put on the shoulders of the laymen of those days, would not grant those men salvation.
Some interesting questions, worthy of contemplation, are noted in the works of Jacobus Arminius:
1. ‘Is it truly said, concerning the good works of believers
“they are unclean like a menstruous cloth”, And does this confession, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags,” &c., (Isa. lxiv. 6,) belong to those works?
2. In what sense is it correctly said “Believers sin mortally in every one of their good works”?’
– Jacobus Arminius, Certain Articles To Be Diligently Examined And Weighed. Because Some Controversy Has Arisen Concerning Them Among Even Those Who Profess The Reformed Religion, Scripture And Human Traditions (emphasis mine)
[*!] As this article seems to be confusing to some, I would advice everyone reading this to check out “this article” first. It is important to perceive that when we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ Name, thanks to the atonement of Jesus Christ, God can freely remit our sin and see us as if we have never sinned before.
CONTRADICTION WITH JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS ? (JAMES 2)
James 2 seems to be in direct contradiction with Romans 4. But does James truly contradict Paul? Is it justification by faith OR works or is it justification by faith AND works, and what order do they have? I hope you will find out after reading this article… 🙂
I personally like to divide justification in 2 or 3 steps. First comes the justicifation by faith (alone) [Ephesians 2:8, Titus 3:5], and then comes the justification by works [James 2:24].
After I wrote this article, I found out that according to Dr. Lambertus Floor, “church father Augustine and the great theologian Thomas Aquinas have also tried to expound on the controverse by stating that Paul points to works that are done BEFORE conversion while James is looking at works that are done AFTER conversion.”
source: Dr Lambertus Floor, Jakobus – Brief van Een Broeder [James – Epistle of A Brother], Commentaar op Het Nieuwe testament, Derde Serie [Commentary on The New testament, Third Series], rechtvaardiging, Geloof en Werken bij Jakobus en Paulus, p112
I should state that I made this idea in my own mind while studying James. I quickly became unsatisfied of the general Protestant view on James 2 by studying the justifications of Abraham in their proper context. That is why I formed a view of a second justification by works, which had been formed by Johannes von Belser before (according to the same source).
This I only found out months after having written this article. Credit where credit is due.
It was confirmed that I was not alone in those ideas as I studied different Orthodox and Roman-Catholic sources later on. Especially Pelagius (who is quoted below) made already a beautiful division between works before conversion and works after conversion, in his commentary on Romans. The same ideas I found also in the works of Erasmus (who is also quoted below) and on some roman-Catholic and Orthodox websites by modern authors.
Afer I have dealt with the quotes of Pelagius and Erasmus, I will try to deal with the Biblical foundations for such thoughts (I am a “Sola Scriptura” guy).
”For we deem that a person is justified through faith without the works of the law.” [Romans 3:28] …
Some misuse this verse to do away with works of righteousness, asserting that faith by itself can suffice, although the same apostle says elsewhere: ‘And if I have complete faith, so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, it profits me nothing’ … Now if these verses seem to contradict the sense of the other verses, what works should one suppose the apostle meant when he said that a person is justified through faith without the works [of the law]? Clearly, the works of circumcision or the Sabbath and others of this sort, and not without the works of righteousness, about which the blesses James says: ‘Faith without works is dead’. But in the verse we are treating he is speaking about that person who in coming to Christ is saved, when he first believes, by faith alone.”
– Pelagius, Commentary on Romans, p. 83 (On Romans 3:28, partial quote, added reference between brackets)
This quote makes clear that early theologians already had the idea in mind that there is an explicit difference between works before conversion and works after conversion.
“A father lifts up a child who has fallen and has not yet strength to walk, however much it tries, and show it an apple which lies over against it; the child longs to run, but on account of the weakness of its limbs it would have fallen had not its father held its hand and steadied its footsteps, so that led by its father it obtains the apple which the father willingly puts in its hand as a reward for running. The child could not have stood up if the father had not lifted it, could not have seen the apple had the father not shown it, could not advance unless the father had all the time assisted its feeble steps, could not grasp the apple had the father not put it into his hand. What, then, can the infant claim for itself? And yet it does something. But it has nothing to glory about in its powers, for it owes its very self to its father.”
(…) For since there are three stages in all things–beginning, progress, and end–they attribute the first and last to grace, and only in progress say that free choice achieves anything, yet in such wise that in each individual action two causes come together, the grace of God and the will of man…
– Desiderius Erasmus, On the Freedom of the Will
(At judgment day, there will be a confirmation, which you could call the third justification (Matthew 25:31-46). According to Erasmus and me, salvation has 3 dimensions. 1. Start 2. Process: for dimension 3. End. Please read “Sola Gratia“, “Synergism” and “Statement of Faith” for that sequence of the 3 dimensions. All three steps are clearly worked out in the parable of the father and child by Erasmus, which can be read above or in the article called “Synergism“.])
"Orthodox Christians can confidently state that Orthodoxy does properly regard the biblical teaching of justification as being by faith apart from the works of the Torah (...)"
EXEGESIS OF ABRAHAM BEING JUSTIFIED BY FAITH AND/OR BY WORKS
Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6:
“ And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.“
But later on, he was also justified by works, in Genesis 22:12 (read the context for clarification)
“And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.“
"though faith is rightly understood as a life lived in faithful obedience to God."
This is confirmed in James 2:21.
Notice also that a “promise scenario of stars”, very likewise to the one in Genesis 15:1-7 is stated in Genesis 22:15-18.
These works came out of genuine faith and synergism
(co-operation with God(‘s Spirit)*, as it is written in Genesis 22:8:
“And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering“
In my opinion, Luther, who was seriously opposed to the Epistle of James, missed a very important point: the difference between being justified by the (Jewish) Law (this idea is strongly condemned in the epistles of Paul) and being justified by works out of the (Law of the) Holy Spirit (which is, as far as I know, never condemned by apostle Paul and always affirmed by apostle James).
Faith alone is not enough. True faith and its following works, is enough. (See James 2:24). A Protestant view, that the necessary works in James, are speaking about being justified before men, is incorrect. When Abraham almost sacrificed his son, in obedience to and faith in God, it was not about being justified before men but it was about being justified before God.
As it is written in Genesis 22:18-19a:
‘”Every nation on the earth will be blessed through your descendants. I will do this because you obeyed me.”
Then Abraham went back to his servants.’ (ERV)
We see 2 Things coming out of these verses:
1. The reason for the blessing of God was the obedience of Abraham.
2. Only after this deed of obedience towards God, he went back to his servants.
This is confirmed in James 2:20-24:
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.“
That is why I personally like to divide justification in 2 steps:
First comes the justicifation by faith (alone),
and then comes the justification by works.
*”Seest thou, that faith did co-operate with his works; and by works faith was made perfect? This shows the full meaning of the Scriptures that say, “Abraham believed God, and because of this faith he was accepted as one who is right with God.” – James 2:22(DRA)-23a (ERV, emphasis added)
Remember: works must always flow out of faith. First you need the grace, then the faith (by which the Holy Spirit starts living in you and teaching you) and finally the works. As it is written in Ephesians 2:8-10:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
It is not like: “Oh no! I got only 4 works and I need 5!” Works will automatically flow out of a true relationship with Christ (John 15:5), in which you truly trust Him and thus logically cooperate with His Holy Spirit.
CONCLUSION: JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH AND JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS
I believe there is a false dichotomy going around since the time of Maarten Luther, John Calvin and others. Works of the law (which do not and did never attain righteousness: Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16) should not be confused with works out of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:17, Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:6, 1 Thessalonians 1:3).
Paul is preaching against work-righteousness by keeping the Law (which is impossible). James is preaching that true believers must walk in the Law of the Holy Spirit (See Paul’s fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The Law of the Holy Spirit is the liberating law (James 1:25).
Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NKJV). Until the day he dies, the true believer must walk in cooperation (synergism) with the Holy Spirit.
As it is written in Galatians 5:22-23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.“
Galatians 6:7-8 makes it even more clear:
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
“work out your own salvation” – Philippians 2:12b
As Jesus Himself said:
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.
I am the Vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
– Matthew 7:24-27 (KJV)
But let us not get into confusion here! Soli Deo gloria!:
“It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13b
So do not be afraid my brothers and sisters! We just have to hang on to Christ and never leave Him! It is the Holy Spirit who will give us the will and obedience! It is the most natural job for an honest Christian! With His Spirit, nothing is impossible! 🙂
If this is not the case; if God’s will is not your will, concerning the previous, if you never liked to work for God (every Christian should like to, because God did so much for us, even giving His only begotten Son), or if your battery has run low, feel free to get on your knees and beg, in the Name of Jesus, for joy in your works! 🙂
PAUL (!) teaches: "This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works." - Titus 3:8a (NKJV, emphasis mine) So don't tell me that Paul did not care about good works after conversion!
“Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery has established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
– Book of Common Prayer, Second Sunday of Easter, 172-73
“These are the people I am pleased with:
those who are not proud or stubborn
and who fear my word.”
– Isaiah 66:2b (NCV)
I like to use the word “trust” instead of “faith” (which is the same in Greek). And so I say: “When you trust Someone, you do as He asks you to do”.
Note: I have experienced that we might fail God many times – which is not a license to sin – but out of my own failings I’ve learned that He remains faithful. He will never leave us, as long as we don’t leave Him and as long as we don’t think we have a license to sin, in that we do not really repent but think He will forgive anyway, no matter how much we live like beasts.
He is a faithful God but we must remain faithful too and not walk away by sticking to sin. (Please read “Any One Form of Sin Persisted In is Fatal to The Soul“, “Conditional Security” and “Synergism“).
Here is the full text in the EXB (James 2:19-24):
“You believe ·there is one God [or that God is one; Deut. 6:4]. ·Good [L You do well]! But the demons believe that, too, and they ·tremble with fear [shudder]. You ·foolish [senseless; emptyheaded] person! ·Must you be shown [Do you want evidence; Can’t you see] that faith ·that does nothing [without works] is ·worth nothing [useless; barren]? Abraham, our ·ancestor [father; patriarch; Gen. 12:1–3], was ·made right with God [justified] by what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar [Gen. 22]. So you see that Abraham’s faith and ·the things he did [his works] worked together. His faith was made ·perfect [complete] by ·what he did [his works]. This ·shows the full meaning of [fulfills] the Scripture that says: “Abraham believed God, and ·God accepted Abraham’s faith, and that faith made him right with God [L it was credited/counted to him as righteousness; Gen. 15:6].” And Abraham was called God’s friend [2 Chr. 20:7; Is. 41:8]. So you see that people are ·made right with God [justified] by ·what they do [their works], not by faith only.”
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me:And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” – John 10:28
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
“Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
That’s my conviction.
“Have you read well? Our salvation depends on more than one time accepting Jesus as our Saviour. In James 2:14-26 ze read that faith without works is dead! It has no value to us. Even the devil believes in God and in the end he goes to hell! (…) Don’t close your eyes when you see the misery of others. If you do, Jesus will close His eyes for you. We have to keep on working out our salvation. Not a cheap and corrupt gospel.”
– Immanuel Livestro, Wees Radicaal! (Be Radical!), p 18 (this part is translated by crosstheology)
To avoid all confusion:
Click here to read a sermon that touches the subject more superficially (easier to understand).
Read also “Living What We Believe” and “Love is Obedience” by William Birch.
Read also “The Law of Love“.
This Christian boxer summarized it well:
Matthew Henry on Justification in James 2
(Parts on which I agree)
[Click on the links below to download this section:
matthew-henry-on-justification-james-2.pdf (Adobe Reader format)]
“When Paul says that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28), he plainly speaks of another sort of work than James does, but not of another sort of faith. Paul speaks of works wrought in obedience to the law of Moses, and before men’s embracing the faith of the gospel; and he had to deal with those who valued themselves so highly upon those works that they rejected the gospel (as Rom. 10:1-21, at the beginning most expressly declares); but James speaks of works done in obedience to the gospel, and as the proper and necessary effects and fruits of sound believing in Christ Jesus.”
– Matthew Henry, Commentary on The Whole Bible, Commentary on James 2:14-26, I
“Paul may be understood as speaking of that justification which is inchoate, James of that which is complete; it is by faith only that we are put into a justified state, but then good works come in for the completing of our justification at the last great day; then, Come you children of my Father—for I was hungry, and you gave me meat, etc.”
– Matthew Henry, Commentary on The Whole Bible, Commentary on James 2:14-26, I
“It is a great delusion to imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven. Those who argue thus wrong God, and put a cheat upon their own souls; a mock-faith is as hateful as mock-charity, and both show a heart dead to all real godliness. You may as soon take pleasure in a dead body, void of soul, or sense, or action, as God take pleasure in a dead faith, where there are no works.”
– Matthew Henry, Commentary on The Whole Bible, Commentary on James 2:14-26, II
“And now, upon the whole matter, the apostle draws this conclusion, As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also, Jas. 2:26. These words are read differently; some reading them, As the body without the breath is dead, so is faith without works: and then they show that works are the companions of faith, as breathing is of life. Others read them, As the body without the soul is dead, so faith without works is dead also: and then they show that as the body has no action, nor beauty, but becomes a loathsome carcass, when the soul is gone, so a bare profession without works is useless, yea, loathsome and offensive. Let us then take head of running into extremes in this case. For, (1.) The best works, without faith, are dead; they want their root and principle. It is by faith that any thing we do is really good, as done with an eye to God, in obedience to him, and so as to aim principally at his acceptance.”
– Matthew Henry, Commentary on The Whole Bible, Commentary on James 2:14-26, VII
[Click on the link below to download this section:
matthew-henry-on-justification-james-2.pdf (Adobe Reader format)]
Francis W. Dixon’s 7 results of demanding pardon:
“What happens when we come to God as guilty sinners and ask Him, for Jesus’ sake to forgive us? First: our transgressions are removed: ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us’ (Psa. 103:12); second: we are made absolutely clean: ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool’ (Isa. 1:18); third: our sins are cast behind His back; ‘Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back (Isa. 38:17);fourth: the record of our sins is erased: ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions’ (Isa. 44:22); fifth: our sins are cast into the sea: ‘Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea’ (Mic. 7:19); sixth: our sins are forgotten for ever: ‘ I … will not remember thy sins’ (Isa.43:25); seventh: they are completely cleansed away: ”the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). When does all this happen? Immediately the sinner comes to the Saviour, conscious of his need and humbly seeking his salvation, then, at once, the miracle takes place. He is pardoned, cleansed and set free. Have you come like this to the Saviour?”
Source: Francis W. Dixon, Other Preachers’ Bones, 8: From Sin to Salvation, p 65 (I do not recommend this book, I just agree with the above part).
Francis W. Dixon’s 7 results of demanding pardon:
“The scribes [read: protestant reformers] interpret as if a person could be saved through Christ whether he do the works of faith or not. If such were the case, why then should Paul say [in] Romans 2 that God will render to everyone according to his works, namely eternal life to those who strive after glory, praise and immortality with perseverance in good works, but to those who are quarrelsome and are not obedient to the truth, but are obedient to the evil, there will come disfavor and wrath, tribulation and anxiety, [namely] upon all the souls of men who do evil. He says, [in] Romans 2, Not those who hear the Law are righteous, but those who do the Law.”
source: Michael Sattler, “Concerning the Satisfaction of Christ: An Anabaptist Tract On True Christianity,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 20, no. 4 (1946): 247. Translation by John Christian Wenger.
, James 2:22, biblija blog
Picture source: Sue Detweiler, Sue Detweiler quote, familyshare
Picture source Matthew Henry: geloofenredeonline
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture passages
are taken from the King James Version,
public domain of the British Crown.
The split quote in the grey boxes is from:
“What Do Orthodox Christians believe about Justification? A Response to Protestant Criticisms” by Eric Jobe on blogs.ancientfaith.com.