Are we Justified by Faith Alone?

Are we Justified by Faith Alone?

Introduction

Is it possible to be saved by faith alone? Well, of course it is possible to be saved by faith alone because after all we are saved by faith in the first place. What do you mean by faith? If you mean that “faith” is an initial mental affirmation of Jesus as Lord, then okay. If by “alone” you mean that a person has to do absolutely nothing else besides express faith as outlined above, then okay. I would say that this absolutely can and does justify, initially. By initially I mean that a person at that moment indeed becomes justified outside of any other type of deed or work, this I will not deny. It is how we are justified. Now this understanding needs no further explanation or thought if only a person did not live for more than a couple of hours after his initial belief. If however like most of mankind you should find yourself to live more than a few hours then more explanation is indeed needed on the subject because we are no longer talking about “one moment”, but instead about a person’s lifetime. Faith, indeed at that moment, is achieved by the person who simply believes, but faith cannot end there if a person’s life extends beyond that point. A person’s faith must also extend. This is where works and faith work together to complete faith. Faith is not to be measured in how much a person believes or how much he once believed, but also by how much a person does with what he believes. Can someone be said to have faith in a moment where they reject to follow the Lord’s commandments? If this person refuses to be baptized, to partake of His body and blood, to continually confess his sins, and to give to his destitute brother can this person be said to be expressing faith? Hardly. It does not matter if this person initially expressed faith in our Lord because by his impenitent heart He has not maintained the completed/perfect faith which our Lord is looking for. Faithfulness is the type of faith required of us and while none of us remains faithful to our Lord at all times we are still not exonerated from this requirement, but are admonished to repent.

Abraham the Father of Faith; Positive Example

Abraham is often presented as our example by the Apostles when it comes to faith. I don’t believe you can take away the element of “works of the law” from their writings and come to a proper understanding, but for the sake of the writing at hand I will refrain from discussing this. Both Paul and James prop up Abraham as an example of justification and faith. While Paul highlights the fact that Abraham was justified by faith apart from Mosaic works, and indeed other works, it is James who says that Abraham was justified by works. James also says that we are indeed justified by works and not by faith only. Both quote the same verse about Abraham’s faith being reckoned as righteousness. So Paul highlights Abraham’s faith in God broadly apart from Mosaic works of the law and James zeroes in on the action Abraham took part in that “completed faith”. So while broadly speaking Abraham was justified by faith, James reminds us that Abraham still was justified by his deeds due to faith being completed by actions. Ultimately Abraham was justified by faith, but it cannot be said that works were excluded because it is by works that faith is made complete. As Abraham’s life extended beyond the point of his call so did his faith as is proven by his attempt at sacrificing Isaac.

Unbelieving/Unfaithful Israel; Negative Example

The negative example that we have in Scripture concerning “faith” is Israel. Israel is a people group that was chosen and elect by God to be His servants on the Earth. Through their disobedience Paul says in Romans that they were unfaithful/unbelieving. Scripture often connects the idea of faith with obedient action and connects the opposite of faith, I.E. unbelief, with disobedient action. Through their rejection of Jesus, their unbelief, those of Israel had fallen yet those outside Israel who believed were grafted in to the promises of God. The warning that Paul gives to the church to those who have indeed had initial faith is that they needed to continue in God’s kindness so that they themselves might not fall. If simply believing in Jesus one time was enough for someone to be considered justified “forever” and without works then what exactly is Paul warning the church for? He is warning them to continue in God’s kindness of living under the teachings and practices given to the church. It continues to stand to reason that a working faith is needed to justify. Israel, speaking corporately, has failed time and time again. Yet there were those who didn’t and we also won’t fall if we continue in His teachings.

So what’s the big deal?

Many Protestants who hold to the inappropriate version of “faith alone” would agree with a lot that is written here. They do indeed believe works plays a role in salvation, however not as expressed above. For Protestants faith is something that is totally separated from works. Works are often described as something that comes from faith rather than something that works with and completes faith. Where the understanding above differs from the Protestant one is the idea of what follows faith. Ideally yes good works always follow faith. Is this always the case? Certainly not. Should it be? Certainly, but it is not true that just because someone has initial faith it means they will complete it with good works. Protestants have come up with new ideas which assert that if someone claims to have faith, but does not have works they were never truly a believer. The nuance is that they lied about having initial faith in Jesus and that is the reason they did not persevere in good works. The truth is that we can all have initial faith in our Lord Jesus as King, but still fall and turn away from Him by denying Him both in word and deed. James does not make the argument that faith follows works, but rather that works complete faith. This contentious matter is one of the big ones that remains a stumbling block for Protestants to enter into historic Christianity.

Then What must I do?

The obvious answer for someone looking to enter into the Kingdom of Righteousness is to have faith in our Lord Jesus. Only do not let your faith be in word only. Let it be something that continues on seeking to fulfill every teaching and practice of the church. Love Jesus and fulfill His commandments. Get Baptized, engage in the sacraments, help your brother, and anything else our Lord requires of us may you also be at work doing. While Protestants may misplace the idea of works, many still believe that works function somewhere in salvation. They believe that “a true believer” is shown to be one by his works. While the church has not affirmed their nuance of “works always following faith” the church has indeed also said that “true faith” is accomplished in action. Faith is something we continue to participate in and not something we “once did” only. If we say we are justified by faith alone then let it be a penitent, continuing faith that seeks His kingdom until the end. Remembering that He will judge us all according to our works and also that He has mercy on all the penitent let us continue on for Him.

*Disclaimer*

To be fair when I mention “Protestants” I am speaking of a large group of people who hold different understandings from one another. Some Lutherans may look at some of what I portrayed as a Protestant belief and affirm it, while denying other parts of what I presented. The same with Evangelicals and other Protestants.

Roman Catholic Response to the Reformation (Council of Trent)

The Response of the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestants on Justification (The Council of Trent on Justification)

Introduction

Protestant and evangelical churches have ideas on justification that greatly differ from those of their Roman Catholic and Orthodox counterparts. Being that the Protestants broke from Roman Catholicism it is necessary to look at the early response of the Roman Catholic Church to get a better understanding of the great difference of understanding on this topic. This article is set out to show the early response of the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestant’s asserted beliefs on justification.

Faith Alone

One of the biggest pillars of the Protestant understanding of justification is the teaching of faith alone. The idea that Christians are justified by faith is not a new teaching, nor is the understanding that Christians are justified by faith alone (Canon 9). The details and conclusions of how one is justified by faith alone as asserted by the Protestants is one that is indeed incompatible with the prior understandings of the faith, which is not confidence alone (Canon 12). Also the idea that one must adhere to faith alone in faith alone or be absolutely sure he is justified in order to be justified is also condemned (Canons 13 and 14).

Selected Canons

Canon ix. If any one shall say, that by faith alone the impious is justified; so as to mean that nothing else is required to co-operate in order unto the obtaining the grace of justification, and that it is not in any respect necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

Canon xii. If any one shall say, that justifying faith is nought else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified; let him be anathema.

Canon xiii. If any one shall say, that it is necessary unto every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any hesitation arising from his own infirmity and indisposition, that his sins are remitted unto him; let him be anathema.

Canon xiv. If any one shall say, that man is absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself to be absolved and justified; or that no one is truly justified save he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are perfected; let him be anathema.

Predestination

Canons 15 and 17 due away with the introduction of reformed predestination. That is the ideas that God predestined evil and good for those whom He chose to receive grace and not to receive respectively and that those who have faith are to be confirmed that they are of this type of predestinate.

Selected Canons

Canon xv. If any one shall say, that a man, who is born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinated; let him be anathema.

Canon xvii. If any one shall say, that the grace of justification only befalleth those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.

Free will and Total Depravity

Canons 4, 5, and 6 condemn the idea that free will is entirely done away with from Adam’s fall and that man’s free will does not co-operates with God to receive justification.

Selected Canons

Canon iv. If any one shall say, that the free will of man moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates to the end that it should dispose and prepare itself for obtaining the grace of justification; and that it cannot refuse consent, if it would, but that, like something inanimate, it does nothing whatever, and is merely in a passive state; let him be anathema.

Canon v. If any one shall say, that, since Adam’s sin, the free will of man is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing with a name only, yea, a title without a reality, a figment, in fine, brought into the Church by Satan; let him be anathema.

Canon vi. If any one shall say, that it is not in the power of man to make his ways evil, but that God worketh the works that are evil as well as those that are good, not by permission only, but properly, and of Himself in such wise that the treason of Judas be no less His own proper work than the calling of Paul; let him be anathema.

Perseverance of the Saints

The idea introduced to the church that everyone who receives the grace of justification will indeed persevere unto the end and not fall away from the faith is condemned by canons 23 and 26. Canon 24 does away with the idea that good works are a “fruit” of faith only. It is said to build up the faith he has and is necessary.

Selected Canons

Canon xxiii. If any one shall say, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, throughout his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial, except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds respecting the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.

Canon xxiv. If any one shall say, that the justice received is not preserved, and also increased in the sight of God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of justification received, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

Canon xxvi. If any one shall say, that the just ought not, for their good works which have been done in God, to expect and hope for an eternal recompense from God, through His mercy and the merit of Jesus Christ, if they persevere unto the end in well doing and in keeping the divine commandments; let him be anathema.

Conclusion

No matter what sect of Christianity one finds himself to be in I believe this information is helpful for the understanding of early Protestant and Catholic relations on the theology of justification. There are other canons on the topic of justification and one can read, as I have, the Council of Trent’s canons here.