Sunday, April 14, 2013

NOT BY FAITH ALONE ? An old objection , revisited

St. James and St. Paul Battling it Out on Justification

 In October of 2010, I wrote a blog post answering an atheist friend who claimed that the Bible contradicted itself by teaching in one place (Romans 3 & 4) that Justification is by faith apart from works, and in another place (James 2) that " works a man is justified, and not by faith only." 

Recently, on the Reformed Forum Facebook page, someone posted the following:
I believed and taught "justification by faith alone" for over 20 years as an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and as the adult Bible class teacher in my church. But on September 30th 2011, I was looking for the verse in the Bible that said justification is by faith alone. So, I typed "faith alone" in an online Bible search engine. That search has opened my eyes and brought me closer to God. My hope is that searching to find what the Bible actually says about "faith alone" will do the same for you. Here is the link that started my search: May God Bless You

This seasoned Presbyterian elder & bible class teacher apparently had never seen a copy of the Westminster Confession & Catechisms, nor was he aware of the classic Roman Catholic objection to the doctrine of "Justification by Faith Alone" that he had taught for over 20 years. While he approaches the Justification issue from a different direction than my atheist friend (he is not arguing a contradiction between Paul and James), the ground of his supposed refutation is the teaching found in in the epistle of James. So my answer below still applies.

Here is an edited version of the post I wrote two and a half years ago in answer to the atheist's objection.

The question is: Does the Bible teach that we are saved by Faith Alone, or a combination of Faith and Works? It gets complicated when it appears that two authors of New Testament epistles have different views on the matter.

There are two keys to understanding what some claim is a "contradiction" between Paul's and James' teaching on "justification," and they are easily discerned by reading their respective arguments.
1. The first key is the different senses in which each is using the word JUSTIFICATION (and it's variants: "justify" and "justified") Paul is talking about being declared legally righteous in God's sight, while James is talking about a person's actions backing up, or justifying, his verbal profession of faith.
2. The second key is this: What errors are each refuting? Paul is arguing (Romans 1:16-5:2) against the notion that there is something we can do that contributes meritoriously to our being declared legally righteous before God. James is arguing (James 1:22-2:26) against antinomianism. That is the notion that the life of someone who posesses true faith in Christ will not necessarily exhibit works as evidence of (justification of) that faith. "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
Notice also how Paul (in Romans 4) and James (in James 2:21-24) each use different incidents in Abraham's life to illustrate their respective points. See how these two narratives from Genesis 15 & 22, as cited by Paul and James, complement and support each other.
The law of (non-)contradiction is:
"A" can not be "non-A" at the same time and in the same sense.
I have shown that Paul and James were each using the word "justification" in a different sense. Therefore, there is no contradiction.
The debate is still a live issue today however. The slogan of the Reformers, "Salvation by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, because of Christ Alone, for the Glory of God Alone" is challenged  not only by Roman Catholics, but various sects such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons and even segments of Evangelicalism. Skeptics see the issue as a contradiction in the Bible, nullifying it's authority.
Reformed churches have consistently believed and taught that God graciously saves us solely through faith in Christ and His perfect life and His death on the cross on behalf of sinners. We believe that this faith is a gift from God and is a faith that produces works necessarily.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. __Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV
Cartoon by Richard Gunther


Persis said...

Great response, Craig. I think justification will always come under attack until Jesus returns because it's the doctrine whereby the church stands or fall. said...

The controversy can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3. Covering ourselves with leaves vs God covering us with skin of a slain animal, that joined to His promise of the coming "seed of the woman." Salvation is of the Lord.

Steve Finnell said...


When the apostle Peter preached the first sermon under the New Covenant, on the Day of Pentecost 33 AD, what did he preach?

1. Peter preached Jesus as a miracle worker. (Acts 2:22)
2. Peter preached Jesus crucified.(Acts 2:23)
3. Peter preached Jesus resurrected from the grave. (Acts 2:31)
4. Peter preached Jesus ascended into heaven. (Acts 2:34)
5. Peter preached Jesus as Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)

When the men at Pentecost heard Peter preach, they ask Peter and the rest of the apostles what they should do. (Acts 2:37)

What did Peter tell them they should do? Did Peter say "You can be saved just like the thief on the cross, simply ask the Lord to remember you when He comes into His kingdom?" NO, Peter did not say nor did he imply they could be saved like the thief on the cross.

WHAT DID PETER SAY? Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.(NKJV)

There are no Scriptures stating that men can be saved like the thief on the cross under the New Covenant terms for pardon.

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