A Sidekick's Blog

Justification By Faith Alone | March 22, 2014

A Reformed Christian web site with a huge, vast library of excellent resources, also has a forum that I participate in. One of the recurring debates that has arisen there over the past few years has been on the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone (Sola Fide). Due in part to all the foot-dragging in the courts of the PCA on the rise of the Federal Vision teaching (hereafter abbreviated as “FV”), the debate has been renewed in recent months and years with greater fervor among the leaders of that denomination. Thankfully, other conservative Presbyterian denominations have addressed the matter with the speed and urgency it demands. FV represents a hyper-covenantalism that elevates the Church nearly to the level of co-redemtrix, where salvation is determined by one’s standing in the church, receipt of the sacraments, and the judgment of the Esteemed Clergy and Elders. It is supreme irony that FV originated in denominations spawned by the Reformation, since it is essentially a call back to Rome. It turns the Reformation on its head. It is an attack upon its very soul.

A beloved tactic of false teachers is to change the definitions of theological terms without actually telling us that they’re defining the words differently. In the Word of Faith movement, for example, faith is redefined to make it something more akin to “the Force” of Star Wars fame; a neutral power for both good and evil depending on how it is applied using the spoken word in a mind-over-matter sort of way. So when the Word of Faith teachers speak, they can use “Christian-sounding” words to totally pervert the Christian religion. They conveniently neglect to inform their listeners and readers that the word faith has a completely different meaning for them. In the same way, FV teachers have deceptively merged two different meanings of the word justification:

In my college classes I am frequently asked to write essay answers to tests and quizzes with the instruction, “justify your answer.”

That is the use of the word “justify” that James uses most often in his epistle. Works justify faith. That is, works authenticate faith; they testify that faith is genuine; they prove that faith has done its work in the heart of the believer. It is their works that “justify” (or authenticate) the faith of those listed in the “Honor Roll of Faith” of Hebrews 11, a “great cloud” of witnesses whose works certify that their faith was genuine; who all testify to the same thing: That the guilt of their sin was borne by Christ and appropriated to them by faith alone. So then we are justified by faith, and our faith is justified (proven to be genuine) by works.

When the word justified is applied to people, it means “declared Not Guilty.” Applied to actions, deeds, and works, the word means “authenticated, proved to be genuine.”

In Paul’s epistles the word is most often applied to persons rather than works, so it describes the forensic decree of “Not Guilty” in the Court of God. But like James, Paul insists upon faith that can be proven to be authentic by good works. I’m sure the two Apostles had many long talks on the subject with one another and fully agreed with each other.

When one considers the authorship and intended audience of Paul’s epistles and James’, one can account for the different uses of the words “justify” and “justification” thusly: Paul writes in a “legal opinion” sort of fashion as a Roman citizen, and as a “Pharisee of Pharisees” to an audience of mostly Gentile believers. He writes to reassure them that their standing before the Court of God is not dependent upon their ability and faithfulness to do all works of the Law, but upon simple faith in the One who did the works perfectly in our stead and died bearing our sins away in His own body on the tree. His resurrection “justifies” (proves) His atoning work, showing that the Father had accepted His sacrifice, and it is applied to us in the court of God (persons are justified) by faith alone. James’ epistle is written to the entire Church, Jew and Gentile alike, to describe what disciples of Jesus ought to look like, demonstrating works that justify (as in authenticate, prove as genuine) the faith that justifies (declares Not Guilty) the believer.

That’s the only difference between Paul and James. But if we merge those two senses of the word, and conveniently forget to inform our readers and listeners of such subterfuge, we can use these “Christian-sounding” terms and quote whole sections of scripture to “prove” that justification is by our works as much as it is by our faith. In only one sense are believers justified by works, and that is that the works of Christ are imputed to believers by faith, and so we are justified – declared “Not Guilty” – by faith alone, apart from our works of the Law, since Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law is credited to us. By faith. By faith alone.


1 Comment »

  1. I think people sometimes forget that it is not what THEY do but rather what GOD does. But, the works should be because it is something they want to do and not because that is their ticket for greater favor. I am not more spiritual than the next person because I read my bible more or pray more than you. I am holy because God makes me holy. I seek to touch other peoples lives because of the joy in my own heart, and sometimes no joy at all but because that is who I am, who God created in His image. I reach out to people and believe in people because He created them.

    Comment by suziearnaud — March 22, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

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