Justification is by Faith Alone (sola fide)

Dikaiósis– “to approve, justify.”

How is one made right with God? According to the Catholic Church… It is a process. One can’t claim an assurance of salvation as a new convert. This struck me as odd considering my upbringing as a Lutheran. I recalled several times being certain of the truth of scripture and that believers were saved apart from works.

In a recent discussion I’ve been having with a friend on the topic of Catholic theology, conversation drifted to how someone is saved. It appears Catholics will give the answer that we are saved by faith, however pressing further into the theology they do not believe that faith alone, is truly salvific.

One article I have been directed to was quite interesting. It lays out that the Catholic Church does not teach a world righteousness and quickly claims that scripture doesn’t teach faith alone. (Sola fide) The article is quite certain that salvation is not immediate for a professing Christian. Is very clear that the Catholic Church teaches a requirement for salvation that we must merit, work, earn the grace of given and to build upon it. There is no finished work of Christ in Catholicism. As an interest of mine I was reading through the Council of Trent. Trent’s teaching on Justification is still the standard for the Catholic Church. It states…

Without immediately discounting their claim I wanted to be shown exactly what they used to support this “formula of salvation.” Of course, they claim a more tradition dominant version of scriptural adherence, but i was sure they had some texts to support this claim.

Chiefly the main text that anyone refers to when seeking to teach a faith plus works formula is James. After all James teaches that it is by works that a man is “justified.” So, then faith alone could not be the means of salvation. Right?

Much can be said about the origination of James as it seems to have been written along the same lines as a Christian Proverbs or other wisdom literature. Much could also be made of the fact that Luther seemed to want to remove James from the canon, at least earlier in his life.

I truly do want to get to the meat of the matter: does James teach the man is not saved by faith alone? How could that line up with anything that Paul teaches? Do we believe that James and Paul were contradicting each other? To answer these questions, I selected the Scriptures that they listed in the article as being the scriptural passages to support their argument. To summarize their argument as accurately as I possibly can, it appears from multiple sources that faith begins salvation but does not finish it. The Catholic Christian must perform good deeds to merit their salvation, not merely as a result of their salvation. So, I would like to evaluate whether scripture teaches that good works are a prerequisite to salvation.

James 2:14-26

Vindication versus Reconciliation

The key to this verse is the usage of the word justified. What is James saying when he uses the term justified? What is James’ topic and purpose? Is the Book of James written as a defense for how one is justified? If it were, it would make sense for someone to claim that faith does not save someone.

The usage of the word justified could mean two things. Is it reconciliation with God the James is speaking of? Or is it a specific usage that means vindication/proof? Context and usage is going to be a theme in this response. If James was asking how we know that one is made right with God, then this would be a concerning contradiction of Paul. However, James is not speaking of justification as reconciliation or how we are made right with God. His usage of the term is found in how one proves by their daily living that they are regenerate, made new, or as Paul puts it “God’s workmanship.”

Scriptures clear Christians must behave as Christians, or those who follow Christ. Therefore, it’s important for us to truly seek to please God and to serve one another. James is of course decrying any sort of antinomianism. This isn’t new, as does the rest of the New Testament, particularly Paul and our Lord Jesus himself.

Paul however in his letter to the Romans is not speaking of how we vindicate, demonstrate, or show forth our salvation. Paul is teaching about how one is justified, and by that he means made right for reconciled to the just God who will judge the world. Paul is not preaching antinomianism or that we should just live however we please because Grace is covered us. Paul is seeking to answer the question that occurs in Galatians, Romans, and Ephesians. This is the same concern that Roman Catholic seem to have. How is one made right with God? Is it simply faith or isn’t it Faith plus works. James does not speak to that. Paul does. James is concerned about those who are already saved and therefore should be acting as though they are saved. Paul is speaking to those who know that they are saved but have been attacked or made to doubt that salvation. This is why Paul is so fierce in Galatians, and why he’s so detailed and precise in his defense of justification by faith.

Faith justifies as in reconciles us apart from anything that we have ever done. No Good deeds can possibly earn, merit, or build toward salvation. Faith precedes justification. The good works we do after our salvation through Jesus Christ’s death and Resurrection, vindicate, profess, show out our salvation.

This must never be confused. I’ll give credit to R.C. Sproul for informing my opinion of this topic. He articulated and deepened my understanding of this passage in a video titled “Paul vs. James?: Justified by Faith Alone with R.C. Sproul”. Go give it a look!

Philippians 2:12

…work out your own salvation in fear and trembling. This verse can very easily be misused to tell people that they must be anxious and fearful in meriting salvation. That one must never be certain that they are saved. If that was Paul’s meaning here, we ought to be confused because he said exactly the opposite in his other writings.

The confusion here revolves around the meaning and translation of certain words from Greek to English.

“Work out” in the Greek is equivalent to showing forth and proving salvation much as James used the word justified. Vindicate, prove it out, show forth your justification. The fear and trembling are more accurately “highest respect and great humility.” Don’t take lightly the fact that you have been saved. Therefore, “work out your salvation,” does not mean earn it, it means do what you have been already remade, renewed, and restored to do.  Ephesians 2:10.

Hebrews 10:26-29

This rebukes the Calvinist notion of the “perseverance of the Saints.” It’s often termed “once saved always saved.” This stems from and unbiblical model and Interpretation. This doesn’t refer to salvation as a process, or a thing to accomplish and merit. One can lose their salvation by rejecting it.

Revelation 20:12

This is similar to the sheep and goats’ analogy. The key to understanding that passage is, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, … One doesn’t earn an inheritance!

We are called to be different from the world. This doesn’t necessarily pertain to Christians since this passage refers to the second death. Preceding this verse, the context tells us that Christians will already be raised to life and won’t stand judgement with the dead because as Revelation 20:6 states, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

Galatians 6:6-10

This one caused me the most agitation. The gospel is clear and precise in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The gospel he defends against the Judaizers who wish to add human achievement and merit to the work of salvation already accomplished in Christ. Strangely this sounds familiar to the modern context. The amount of wringing out a law from pure gospel by this Papistry is quite shocking. “Let us not weary in doing good” is not a call to work’s righteousness or to meriting our salvation. This is merely an exhortation consistent with the rest of Paul’s letters to doing what we are recreated in Christ to do.

Romans 2:6-13

Again context! Merely a chapter before Paul is telling us in Romans 1:17, “the righteous we live by faith.” Shortly afterwards it is Romans 3:21, “now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”

Matthew 19:17

This is a single verse from a whole passage. If you take one verse out of the whole relevant passage it loses the meaning it should have. The story is regarding the Rich Young Ruler who was seeking to justify himself. Jesus responds as only he can, with a challenge to the man. Instead of simply telling the man he isn’t justified by his actions, keep demonstrates this to be true by telling the man to go to the most extreme, holiest thing he could do. He tells him to give away that which is precious to him and to follow Jesus himself. This causes the man pain and sorrow because he realizes that he cannot make himself holy, righteous, and justified. The man did not believe and therefore did not do what Jesus taught. No one can believe they are justified by God’s grace and mercy, and then try to earn or merit that grace and mercy. Instead, they will be in danger of trying to earn their salvation under the law. Which Paul explicitly warns Christians to avoid.

Romans 11: 22

Similar to Jesus encouragement, “remain in me”, this is an exhortation to not fall away.

It’s possible to be saved and to lose your salvation by rejecting the faith. Again, “once saved always saved” is not true or scriptural. While some do, most of Protestantism, particularly confessional Protestantism, does not teach antinomianism. We should seek to please God in our everyday life. 

It is scriptural though that salvation is given freely to those who believe. This is instantaneous and without delay. This is seen in passages such as “the thief on the cross”, “for anyone who believes,” Romans 10:9.

Conclusion:

So in summary, Salvation is by faith alone. We are made righteous, declared righteous, by God without any merit on our behalf. We are also made new; we live according to our faith and the new nature in Christ Jesus.

Or as my favorite epistle from Paul, Ephesians 2:8-10 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Nothing can be substituted for the certainty and truth found in this Gospel. The true, unadulterated Gospel which needs no revision or addition by mankind.

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