By Keith Thompson
In this essay I will validate the Reformed view of salvation. This is the biblical teaching that justification is a once-for-all time forensic or legal verdict of acquittal from God that someone is declared righteous in His sight based on the perfect atonement and righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, and that this is received by God-granted faith alone. I will also refute the Roman Catholic idea that becoming right with God, that is, justification, is not a forensic declaration but instead an infusion of righteousness into the soul, whereby someone is made righteous, and that good works are involved in attaining, maintaining and re-gaining this justification.
Common Catholic Misunderstanding of Sola Fide
It is very common for Catholics to argue against some vague notion of “faith alone,” as if Reformed Christianity states all that is involved in the entire Christian experience is faith. The Catholic thinks if he can demonstrate the importance and necessity of good works biblically, he has refuted this vague straw-man notion of “faith alone” he erected. However, all the Reformation was affirming was that justification, that is, becoming right with God and being acquitted, is by faith alone since it alone appropriates the salvific benefits of Jesus’ atonement. However, that does not mean the Reformation taught after this justification good works will not necessarily follow. On the contrary, the Reformation affirmed with Scripture that those who claim to be justified by faith and yet persevere in wickedness with no changed life or good works were never actually regenerated and then truly justified by saving faith. Thus, when the Catholic simply highlights works are necessary evidences or are important biblically, they are doing nothing to undermine that actual teaching of sola fide. It is unhelpful for Catholics to argue that "salvation" involves both faith and works, since, when Christians say salvation is by faith, we are at that moment defining salvation in regards to forensic justification. However, if we are going to define salvation as the entire Christian experience including glorification, Reformation Christians would gladly affirm good works will be present in that context, not in terms of meriting glorification (i.e., something a believer relies upon), but in terms of them being evidences of justification without which no one is glorified. Thus, when a Catholic apologist such as Tim Staples (Tim Staples, Nuts and Bolts, [Basilica Press, 2007], p. 102) or Peter Dimond (Peter Dimond, The Bible Proves the Teachings of the Catholic Church, [Most Holy Family Monastery, 2009], p. 56) claims “salvation” is not by faith alone, meaning that the entire Christian experience leading up to glorification does not only involve faith, thinking they are refuting sola fide, they are not understanding the actual Reformation position. What such Catholics are attacking is actually a heresy the Reformation rejected and combated known as “Antinomianism”. The heretics who believed this teaching said that as long as someone claimed to have faith, they could do whatever they wanted since they were going to heaven, and that good works are not necessary evidences of salvation upon which final judgement is partly based. This idea is contrary to classical Protestantism. Though a similar view exists today known as “easy-believism” or the “anti-Lordship” position popularized by heretics such as Zane Hodges and others, such thinking is rejected by the Reformation camp.
That the Reformers and Reformation heritage rejected this idea and affirmed the necessity of good works as evidence of salvation without which no one is glorified, is evidenced by many Reformation sources. For example, when combating the Antinomians, Martin Luther stated, “If [good] works and love do not blossom forth, it is not genuine faith, the gospel has not gained a foothold, and Christ is not yet rightly known” (Martin Luther, ed. John Dilenberger, Martin Luther, [DoubleDay], xxix). Similarly, in his 1537 work Instruction in Faith, the Reformer John Calvin wrote, “. . .those who boast of having the faith of Christ and are completely destitute of sanctification by his spirit deceive themselves” (John Calvin, Instruction in Faith, trans. Paul T. Fuhrmann, [Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992], p. 43). The Protestant Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 also affirms this: “They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 13.1). In fact, Reformed scholar John MacArthur has an appendix in his book The Gospel According to Jesus demonstrating the Reformers, Protestant creeds and confessions, as well as the major Reformed figures of history after the Reformation all affirmed this, such as Philip Melanchthon, The Ausberg Confession of 1530, the Belgic Confession of 1561, The Canons of the Synod of Dort of 1619, the puritans, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, John Gill, Charles Spurgeon, B. B. Warfield, A. W. Pink, and many, many others. Thus, when Catholics commonly attack this vague straw-man notion of “faith alone,” they are not refuting actual Reformation Christianity or forensic justification by faith alone.
Case Justification is a Legal Verdict and Not Being “Made Righteous”
Rome denies justification, that is, becoming right with God or passing from a state of condemnation to one of acceptance with God, is a legal verdict of acquittal that someone is declared righteous based on Christ’s work. Instead, Rome falsely claims justification is when someone is “made just” (Decree Concerning Justification, Session Six, Ch. 3, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, trans. H. J. Schroeder, [TAN Books and Publishers, 1978], p. 31). This means for Rome justification is transformative and not forensic. In Canon 24 on justification from the Council of Trent we are told justification is justice or righteousness received (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 24, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, trans. H. J. Schroeder, [TAN Books and Publishers, 1978], p. 45). For Rome justification, then, is an infusion of righteousness into the person’s soul making them righteous, not a legal verdict that someone is righteous in God’s sight legally based on Christ’s work alone being applied to the believer’s account by faith. Thus, when asked if the word “justified” in the New Testament in the context of salvation ever refers to being “declared righteous” or if it always means “to make righteous,” Catholic scholar Robert Sungenis claims it “always” (Not by Faith Alone: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification: An Interview with Robert Sungenis, eds. Ryan Glomsrud, Michael S. Horton, Justified, [Modern Reformation, 2010], p. 61) refers to someone being “made righteous.”
Old Testament evidence. In order to understand the use of the word “justified” (i.e., dikaioō in the original Greek) which was employed by the New Testament writers, we must examine the Old Testament Hebrew Scripture they utilized and cherished. When we do so we clearly see the forensic or legal nature of the terms which the Old Testament used in regards to justification. When such Old Testament texts were translated into the Greek LXX or Septuagint the primitive church used, they were often translated into the dik word group which the New Testament authors also employed when speaking about justification. So, if it turns out the Old Testament speaks of justification as a verdict or a forensic declaration, this supports the position that the New Testament writers, who depended on the Old Testament, likewise did. The following are examples of this: Deuteronomy 25:1 says “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, justifying [Hb. “tsâdaq;” LXX. “dikaios”] the innocent and condemning the guilty” (Deuteronomy 25:1). Notice that justification here is antithetical to condemnation which proves a legal or forensic declaration of acquittal is in view, not someone being “made righteous” as in Romanism. Another example is 1 Kings 8:32: “then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty . . . and justify [Hb. “tsâdaq;” LXX. “dikaioō”] the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness” (1 Kings 8:32). Here again justification is a judicial verdict since it is antithetical to condemnation. It is not someone being “made righteous,” it is someone being “declared righteous.” We see the same thing in 2 Chronicles 6:23: “hear from heaven and act and judge your servants, repaying the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and justifying [Hb. “tsâdaq;” LXX. “dikaioō”] the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness” (2 Chronicles 6:23). Similarly, in Psalms 143:2 we see justification is not “making someone righteous,” but pronouncing or declaring someone to be righteous as a judgement: “And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified [Hb. “tsâdaq;” Lxx. “dikaioō”] (Palms 143:2). Other Old Testament texts which show the same legal character of justification are Exodus 23:7; Job 32:2; Proverbs 17:5 and Isaiah 5:23, etc. This background needs to be consulted if one is to properly understand the New Testament teaching on justification.
New Testament evidence. Justification in the New Testament, as it concerns someone passing from a state of condemnation to one of acceptance with God, that is soteriological contexts, consists of a forensic verdict of acquittal based on Christ’s merits. This justification is not infusion of righteousness into the soul making someone righteous. Romans 3:19-20 says, “19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20). The notion of legal judgement present in this text is seen in the references to men being held accountable, mouth’s being stopped and justification being in God’s sight. Similarly, Galatians 3:11 says: “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law” (Galatians 3:11). It makes sense to say no one is declared righteous before, or in the sight of God by the law. But it makes no sense to say no one is made righteous before, or in the sight of God by the Law. When someone is before God or in God’s sight and law and sin are involved, He pronounces a judgement or verdict. In Romans 5:16 we read, “. . .the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification” (Romans 5:16). Since condemnation (a legal determination) is the antithesis to justification here, justification is to be seen as a forensic (legal) declaration and not people being made righteous. Romans 8:33-34 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died. . .” (Romans 8:33-34). It’s because someone is justified by God that no one can lay a charge or condemn them (legal language). This is because the legal declaration of acquittal and pronouncement of righteousness, i.e., God’s justification, has taken place instead. In Luke 10:29 a man unsuccessfully tried to justify himself before Christ. This refers to the man declaring himself to be righteous or just, not infusing righteousness into his soul. In Luke 7:29 the people justified God. This of course refers to people declaring God just, not making Him just, which is impossible since God already is just. Now, also in the Greek dik word group is the word “righteousness” (Gk. dikaiosunē). This term also has a forensic character in regards to soteriology or salvation. Although the word does not always refer to justification but can simply refer to personal holiness, it is still important to discuss. Romans 9:30-32: “30What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. . .” (Romans 9:30-32). Leon Morris points out, “The forensic idea is very strong here. The Gentiles did not seek before God that righteous standing which the Jews sought by the way of works of merit. Nevertheless they attained to righteousness, namely the righteousness that is of faith. The Jews who were very anxious to establish themselves as righteous before God failed to do so because they came by way of law works instead of by that of faith, which is the way God has appointed” (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross: Third Revised Edition, p. 275). In light of all this evidence, when text after text speaks about men being justified (Luke 18:9-14; Romans 3:24-25; 4:4-5; 5:1, 9; 8:30; 10:10; Galatians 3:24; Titus 3:7) or saved/inheriting eternal life (John 3:16, 18; 3:36; 6:40, 47; 20:31; Romans 10:11-13; 5:24; Ephesians 2:5; 8-9; Titus 3:5; 1 John 5:12) in the context of becoming right with God during life, what is clearly in view is a legal declaration of acquittal and righteousness from Him based on the merit of Christ received by faith. This justification is not about someone being made righteous, though, those justified are also progressively sanctified separately (see Ephesians 2:8-10).
Lexical evidence. Professional lexicographers are important to consult on the meaning of justification. In regards to legal contexts, which is how the Bible clearly presents justification, Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament is important to consult. With regard to the LXX, this source says the word “is constantly used in the positive sense of ‘to pronounce righteous,’ ‘to justify,’ ‘to vindicate’” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromily, Vol. 1, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964-1976], p. 212). This source says the same of its use in the Apocrypha, Psuedepigrapha and Synagogue (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromily, Vol. 1, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964-1976], pp. 212-214). With regard to the New Testament use of dikaioō, the source confirms, “In the NT it is seldom that one cannot detect the legal connexion. . . . The LXX, with its legal emphasis, has obviously had the greatest influence on the NT usage. . . . In Paul the legal usage is plain and indisputable. The opposite of δικαιῶν [justifying] is κατακρινῶν [condemning] (R. 8:34). For Paul the word does not suggest the infusion of moral qualities” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromily, Vol. 1, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964-1976], pp. 214, 215). The Baur, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature affirms dikaioō, in regards to key salvation passages in Romans 3, 4, 5 Galatians 2, etc., means “to render a favourable verdict, vindicate . . . justify, vindicate, treat as just . . . be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous. . .” (Walter Baur, F. W. Danker, William D. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, [University of Chicago Press, 2000], p. 249). Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament states dikaioō means “to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be. . . . especially is it so used, in the technical phraseology of Paul, respecting God who judges and declares such men as put faith in Christ to be righteous and acceptable to him” (Joseph. H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], p. 150). On the same page this lexicon rejects the idea the word means “to make righteous.” Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words states dikaioō means “to declare righteous, justify” (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, [Zondervan, 2006], p. 374). This source does not say it means “to make righteous."
Patristic evidence. In his essay in the book Justification in Perspective, Nick Needham has shown quite a few early church fathers recognized the legal nature of justification in regards to soteriology, in opposition to the papal idea of it meaning being “made righteous.” For example, the early church writer Origen equated justification with “to deem righteous,” not “make righteous”: “To be justified before God is completely different from being justified before men. That is to say, in comparison with other men, one man can be deemed just if he has lived relatively free from faults. . . . in comparison with men they are deemed pure and holy; but they are not able to be pure in comparison with God” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 3.6.8). Origen also used justification as a synonym for forgiveness, acquittal, pardon and remission which coheres with the Reformation view of justification as a legal verdict of acquittal: “If anyone acts unjustly after justification, it is scarcely to be doubted that he has rejected the grace of justification. For a person does not receive the forgiveness of sins in order that he should once again imagine that he has been given a license to sin; for the remission is not for future crimes, but for past ones” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 3.9.4). In fact, Needham shows fathers would differentiate justification with sanctification, while Romanism on the other hand equates the two. For example Marius Victorinus wrote, “We know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith and the faith of Jesus. . . . It is faith alone that gives justification and sanctification” (Marius Victorinus, Commentary on Galatians, 2:15-16). Moreover, Needham shows certain fathers speak of justification as the antithesis of condemnation, demonstrating its legal nature. For example, Tertullian stated, “He always justifies the poor, condemns in advance the rich” (Tertullian, Of Patience, 7). What is more, Methodius stated, “Set me free from the yoke of condemnation, and place me under the yoke of justification” (Methodius, Oration on Simeon and Anna, 8). Hilary of Poitiers said, “Is He who died other than He who condemns us? Lastly, is not He who condemns us also God who justifies us? Distinguish, if you can, Christ our accuser from God our defender. . .” (Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 10.65). Needham remarks, “‘Justifies’ here is the counterpart of ‘defends’ and the opposite of ‘accuses’ and ‘condemns,’ in the setting of divine judgement” (Nick Needham, Justification in the Early Church Fathers, ed. Bruce L. McCormack, Justification in Perspective, [Baker Academic, 2006], p. 30). There is a rich patristic history standing in opposition to the Romanist denial of justification being a legal verdict.
Testimony of Catholic and Protestant scholars. Many Roman Catholic scholars are willing to admit the forensic or legal meaning of dikaioō in New Testament soteriological contexts. This is despite Rome’s instance it is only transformative. Commenting on the historical theologian Alistair McGrath’s investigation of the history of justification, Michael Horton observes even non-Reformation Catholic scholars at the time of Luther understood justification was a legal verdict and not infusion “. . . the Greek verb dikaioō, ‘to declare just,’ is unmistakably judicial in character. However, this meaning of the original text was lost through the faulty Latin Vulgate translation. Just as the medieval system of penance was founded exegetically on the Vulgate’s mistranslation of metanoeō (to change one’s mind) as poenitentium agite (do penance), dikaioō (to declare just) was erroneously rendered iustificare (to make righteous). Though hardly motivated by doctrinal concerns, Erasmus [a 16th century Catholic scholar] had pointed out these lexical inconsistencies even before Luther” (Michael Horton, Traditional Reformed View, eds. James K. Beilby, Paul Rhodes Eddy, Justification: Five Views, [InterVarsity Press, 2011], p. 92 brackets mine). Prolific Roman Catholic scholar Joseph A. Fitzmyer explained New Testament soteriological justification in his commentary on Romans: “. . .by what Christ suffered in his passion and death he has brought it about that sinful human beings can stand before God’s tribunal acquitted or innocent, with the judgment not based on observance of the Mosaic Law” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans, [Doubleday, 1993], p. 117-118). He was commenting on the forensic meaning of justification in Romans 3:25 and 5:9. In the same commentary he also understood justification the same way in 2:13; 3:4, 20; 8:33. It is a forensic verdict of acquittal which Rome denies. Another Roman Catholic scholar named John P. Meier affirms the forensic nature of justification in soteriology as “acquittal” (John P. Meier, Matthew, [Liturgical Press, 1980], p. 136). Moreover, the Catholic scholars Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, though falsely including in the meaning of justification the idea of inward transformation, nevertheless admit its forensic or legal character in salvation contexts even though their church officially teaches the opposite: “Dikaioō (Gk.): the verb means to ‘acquit’, ‘vindicate’, or ‘pronounce righteous’ and is used 15 times in Romans and 24 times in the rest of the New Testament. . . . In a legal context, a judge justifies the innocent when he acquits them of unproven charges (Ex 23:7; Deut 15:1; 1 Cor 4:4). . . . When God acquits the sinner, he also adopts the sinner as one of his own children. . .” (Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, [Ignatius Press, 2010], p. 260). Respected Protestant scholar D. A. Carson observes, “. . .it is now widely granted that δικαιόω, influenced by the OT background, means ‘to declare [someone] righteous,’ not ‘to make [someone] righteous’” (D. A. Carson, Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament, JETS 40/4 [December, 1997], p. 594). Eminent exegete Douglas J. Moo affirms, “It is now generally agreed, then, that dikaioō in Paul means not ‘make righteous’ but ‘declare righteous,’ or ‘acquit,’ on the analogy of the verdict pronounced by a judge” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, ed. Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996], p. 86). Lastly, in his classic work The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Leon Morris noted, “Since verbs in –όω commonly express a causative idea it is urged by some that δικαιόω must mean ‘to make righteous.’ But in the first place verbs of this class denoting moral qualities do not have the causative meaning (e.g. άζιόω means ‘to deem worthy’ not ‘to make worthy’). . . . δικαιόω certainly does not mean ‘to make righteous’” (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, [Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1965], p. 252).
Biblical Case Justification is by Faith Alone
According to Roman Catholic teaching, justification is first received by the human work of baptism. Then justification, as an inwardly-based righteous status, is maintained by faith and works. One can lose their justification by mortal sin and then have to regain it by doing the work of the sacrament of penance. So here justification is merited through the work of penance. The Council of Trent declared: “If anyone says that the justice [righteousness] received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema” (Canons Concerning Justification, Canon 24, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, trans. H. J. Schroeder, [TAN Books and Publishers, 1978], p. 45 brackets mine). Rome also states it is by grace men are able to merit and maintain their justification by their faith and works. However, the biblical teaching is justification is by grace alone and through God-granted faith alone apart from any consideration of works in order that men can not boast and so that God gets all the glory in man becoming right with God.
Luke 18:9-14. We see clear evidence of sola fide in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14: “9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10’Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be propitious to me, a sinner!' 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14). There are many interesting things to be grasped from this text as it relates to sola fide. The Pharisee’s problem was not only that he treated others with contempt, but that he relied on his works such as fasting and giving tithes in order to be seen as righteous in God’s sight (or in right relation with Him). The Pharisee even thanked God (v. 11) for his ability to not be ungodly and do good works, thereby showing he believed his deeds were done in grace. Yet, he was not justified because he relied on works for right standing with God (v. 14). Thus, relying on your works done in grace is the same as trusting in yourself that you are righteous in God’s sight (v. 9) according to Christ. Catholics also rely on their works done in grace as contributing to their justification. Thus, according to Jesus’ teaching, they are relying on themselves that they are righteous and hence not justified. The tax collector, on the other-hand, did not do this. He instead approached God in repentance (thus faith is assumed) and asked God to be propitious to him. This man was justified since he did not rely on his personal righteousness done in grace for right standing with God. Instead he relied totally on God. In fact the word for “propitious” he uses in v. 13, when he asks God to be propitious to him, is hilasthēti which is used in the New Testament to refer to the work of Christ on the cross which turns away God’s wrath and anger (Hebrews 2:17). Also, a different form of the word, hilaskomai, is likewise used in the New Testament to refer to the same thing (Romans 3:25). The same is the case with the word hilasmos (1 John 2:2; 4:10). The sinful tax collector was thus asking God to apply Christ’s propitious atonement to him received by the empty hand of repentant faith whereby his sins would be expatiated and God’s wrath appeased. Shortly thereafter Christ would indeed offer His propitious sacrifice to the Father on the cross as is mentioned in the very same chapter (Luke 18:30-33). This is further confirmation the tax collector's request for God's propitiation referred in fact to Jesus' propitious sacrifice. The conclusion is one is to, for justification, rely on Jesus' propitious sacrifice received by the empty hand of repentant faith alone, and not to also trust in works of righteousness for this, even if they are claimed to be done by grace.
Commenting on Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis’s attempt at refuting the Reformation exegesis of this text in his book Not by Faith Alone, New Testament scholar Robert Reymond notes, “he states that the tax collector’s 'going up to the temple to pray' was probably an ‘ongoing’ daily activity even though the verb translated ‘going up’ (ἀνέβησαν, anebēsan) is aoristic, that is, an action viewed as a single whole or as an action occurring at a point. Nothing in the context suggests that the tax collector regularly went up to the temple to pray. Sungenis then goes on to say that what the tax collector did was to bring ‘his works before God with sincere faith and love’ (197). And ‘under grace, his works are accepted. . . .’ This is, to say the least, shockingly poor exegesis; indeed, it is not exegesis at all, for nothing in the passage bears out his interpretation. It is the Pharisee who brought ‘his works before God’ and from his perspective he doubtless did it ‘with sincere faith and love’; it is precisely the tax collector who did not bring his works before God (except for his sinful ones), but to the contrary he stood some distance away and, not willing even to lift his eyes towards heaven, he beat his breast and acknowledged himself to be ‘the sinner’ and begged for God’s mercy” (Robert Reymond, The Reformation’s Conflict with Rome – Why it must Continue, [Christian Focus Publications, 2001], pp. 132-133). Because of errors like this, Reymond offered the following critique of Sungenis’s book Not by Faith Alone: “I cannot remember ever reading a more transparently eisegetical treatment of any biblical doctrine in my professional life” (Robert Reymond, The Reformation’s Conflict with Rome – Why it must Continue, [Christian Focus Publications, 2001], p. 132).
John 5:24. Jesus affirmed a legal justification by faith or believing in John 5:24 which says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Even though the word “justification” is not used here, we are obviously in the same conceptual world. Believing, judgement, condemnation and right standing with God are present in this text, just as they are in other texts which mention justification of the sinner by God. Christ confirms that the way in which a person passes from a state of condemnation to one of right standing with God (justification) is through believing. The word for “believe” is pisteuō and it simply means to trust or place confidence in, and it is in the present tense indicating present belief or trust. The word “has passed” when it says the one believing “has passed from death to life” is metabebēken and it is in the perfect tense. This means the one believing, that is, a true believer with God-granted faith (Philippians 1:29; Hebrews 12:2) has passed from death to life in a completed past sense whereby the affect continues to the present. Hence, the attaining of life, a past completed thing, is received by placing your trust or confidence in God after hearing Christ’s word.
Catholics may object and claim that since in the context people are told to obey Jesus (5:23, 29), good works must be part of the “believing.” However, just because those who are justified by faith do good works or are called to do good works, since a good tree bears good fruit (Matthew 7:17-18), that does not mean good works are to be inserted into the trust which justifies. Again pisteuō simply means to trust or put your confidence in something, not doing good works. And according to Romans 4:5 works are excluded from faith. Yes believers should do good works, as the context shows, but this does not mean good works should be joined with faith in regards to the instrumental cause of passing from a state of death to one of life here on earth. Unless the Catholic can show from this text that doing works are part of the instrumental cause of justification, instead of merely showing believers do good works in the chapter, they have no case. Moreover, 1 John 3:14, a similar text, shows that good works such as loving the brethren are a result of having already passing from death to life, not the cause of passing from death to life: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Lastly, Ephesians 2:5 says something similar, that is, while we were dead in trespasses, or in a state of death, God raised us to a state of life by grace, not by works. Take that together with Romans 11:6 which says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). Thus, Ephesians 2:5 shows that since passing from death to life is on the basis of grace, works can not be involved in that otherwise grace, that is unmerited favor, would not longer be grace.
Romans 3:20, 25, 28; Galatians 2:16. Paul very clearly affirms justification is by faith alone in Romans 3:20, 23-25: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. . . . 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:20, 25, 28). Galatians 2:16 also says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). It is faith which justifies, not observance of commands. This is because faith appropriates the benefits of Jesus’ atonement whereby its expiatory and propitiatory benefits are applied to the person. This is not by works but by putting one’s faith, trust or confidence in Christ and His saving work.
Some Catholics (Dave Armstrong, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, [Sophia Institute Press, 2003], p. 42; Tim Staples, Nuts and Bolts, [Basilica Press, 2007], pp. 103-104) argue Paul is only condemning the idea of being justified by Jewish boundary markers such as circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath (i.e., ceremonial law). This view is in line with what certain modern liberal scholars such as E. P. Sanders and James D. G. Dunn have argued (Seyoon Kim, Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on The Origin of Paul's Gospel, [Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002], p. 3; n. 14. Dunn, “Paul’s Conversion,” 92 italics mine). However, these so-called "new perspectivists" have been soundly refuted by many volumes such as Carson, O’brien and Seifrid’s two volume’s Justification and Variegated Nomism, Das’s, Paul, the Law, and the Covenant, Moo’s commentary Epistle to the Romans, Kim’s, Paul and the New Perspective, Westerholm’s Perspectives Old and New on Paul and many other works. Such refutations have led Dunn, one of the original proponents of this idea, to retract his position that “works of the law” in these kinds of texts only refer to these boundary markers. Now he is admits in most cases they refer to observance of the entire Old Testament Law, that is general deeds (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998], p. 358). Moreover, even Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis rejects the idea that all Paul is condemning is justification by these Jewish boundary markers. He affirms Paul is condemning justification by both ceremonial and moral law, i.e., all Old Testament Law (Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone, [Queenship Publishing, 1997], p. 26). It is false to interpret Romans 3:20 as the aforementioned Catholics and New Perspectivists do because in the context of Romans 3, Paul also refers to the moral (and not just ceremonial) aspects of the law as not being met (2:18-24; 3:10-18). Thus, when we're told works of the law do not justify in 3:20, the scope must be broadened to include all Mosaic Law. In Galatians 2 and 3 Paul teaches one is justified by faith and not works or works of the law. That he has in view a broader scope than mere boundary-markers is clear since in 3:10-11 he identifies these works of the law with Deuteronomy 27:26 which says: "10For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ (Galatians 3:10-11). Drawing out what bearing this text has on the discussion, A. Andrew Das states, "When Paul uses the phrase ‘works of the law’ in Gal. 3:10 and cites Deut. 27:26 (a composite quote drawing on other statements in Deut. 27–30), the Deuteronomy context indicates that Paul has in mind the law in its entirety, including even actions done in private” (A. Andrew Das, Paul, the Law, and the Covenant, [Hendrickson, 2001], p. 158). This is because, as J. V. Fesko adds, Deuteronomy 27:15-25 (the context of the text Paul quotes to say no one is justified by works of the law) deals with “idolatry, honoring father and mother . . . theft, misleading the blind, perverting justice, incest, bestiality, and murder”( J. V. Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, [P & R Publishing Company, 2008], p. 176). Therefore, it will not work to say, as certain Catholics do, that Paul is merely saying boundary-markers such as circumcision, food laws and Sabbath do not justify, but that other good works contained in the Mosaic Law can. Paul is clearly talking about observance of all Old Testament commands or rules as not being able to justify.
Other Catholics (Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone, [Queenship Publishing, 1997], p. 32) claim Paul is only condemning the idea of observing the whole Mosaic Law by legal obligation, but that he is okay with works done in love and by grace as contributing to justification. The problem with this position is two-fold. (1) Nowhere in these kids of texts (e.g. Romans 3:28, 4:1-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10) does Paul ever actually state something like “although works of the Law done in obligation do not justify, faith and works done in love and grace do.” No, in such texts he always simply pits works or works of the law against faith by itself. (2) Not only is Paul concerned with works of the Mosaic Law not justifying, but he also rejects any works at all as justifying, thereby refuting Sungenis. What informs Paul’s conclusion in Romans 3:20 that no human being will be justified in God’s sight through works of the Law, is his discussion in Romans 3:9-20 concerning man’s utter moral depravity and failure before God. In that text we are told no human, Jew or Gentile, is righteous, understands, seeks for God, or fears God, etc., and that the Law is merely like a mirror which reveals how sinful we are. This is why men cannot be justified by obedience to God's Law (i.e., human effort) according to Romans 3:20. Thus, the Father put Christ forward as a propitious sacrifice to instead be received by faith, whereby men may actually be justified or in right relation with God (Romans 3:25). It follows human effort is not able to justify because of man's condition, but that God-granted faith does. Second, Paul expands obedience to Mosaic Law as not justifying to all works period. For example, in Romans 4:5 Paul says God “justifies the ungodly” which means God justifies those with no works, period. And in various texts, Paul drops the phrase “works of the law” and instead employs the term “works” by itself as not justifying (Romans 4:2, 6; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5). Thirdly, in Romans 9:11, after stressing justification is by faith and not works or works of the law, Paul explains what he means by this: “though they [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls. . .” (Romans 9:11). Hence, “works” are clearly defined as anything "good or bad" for Paul. The Catholic argument which says Paul is fine with justification by works done in love or grace must therefore be rejected since Romans 9:11 shows Paul defines works as any consideration works whatsoever (i.e., "anything good or bad"), and thus denies any as being an instrumental cause of justification. Hence, Sungenis's reliance on works done in love and grace is also condemned.
Romans 4:2-6. We see another clear affirmation of sola fide in Romans 4:2-6: “2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness’” (Romans 4:2-6). The implication of this text is justification is received by those with no works (i.e., the ungodly). Instead it is received by faith (i.e., faith alone). Therefore, the Romanist idea it is received by works is refuted.
The main Catholic response (Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone, [Queenship Publishing, 1997], pp. 152-153) to Paul’s point is that Abraham was allegedly justified more than the one time Paul mentions in v. 3 (which is a quote from Genesis 3:15 about Abraham being justified by believing). They argue Abraham was justified by works in other passages. For example, it is claimed Hebrews 11:8’s mention of Abraham, by faith, going to the place God called Him to receive his inheritance, which happened in Genesis 12:1-4, is an example of Abraham being justified by faith and works. However first, nowhere does either Hebrews 11:8 or Genesis 12:1-4 state Abraham was declared righteous or justified at this event. Second, James R. White observes that this “is not an argument from Scripture; it is an argument against Scripture. That is, the person presenting this argument has a problem with Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 15:6 and is, in fact, arguing just as Paul’s opponents would have in the same position. To argue against an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ only shows that one’s theology is in error from its very inception” (James R. White, The God who Justifies, [Bethany House Publishers, 2001], p. 222). White is correct since Paul’s point in Romans 4:2-6 is Abraham was justified in Genesis 15:6 not by works but by faith, and that, as Romans 5:1 shows, one can look back on their justification and have peace with God. Such could not be the case if Abraham was justified over and over by both faith and works due to losing his justification.
Now, the other argument is that since James 2:21 says Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac on the alter in Genesis 22. However, the problem with this argument is that James and Paul are talking about two different things. Paul is talking about Abraham being declared righteous or acquitted by faith apart from any consideration of works, based on righteousness being credited or imputed to Abraham’s account by faith. This is not what James is talking about. As New Testament scholar Robert Reymond observes, “Whereas Paul intends by ‘justified’ the actual act on God’s part whereby he pardons and imputes righteousness to the ungodly, James intends by ‘justified’ the verdict which God declares when the actually (previously) justified man has demonstrated his actual righteous state by obedience and good works” (Robert Reymond, Paul: Missionary Theologian, [Christian Focus Publications, 2000], p. 442). To prove the existence of this concept of "declared justification," Reymond further notes, “That a distinction must be drawn between God’s actual act of justification whereby he pardons and constitutes the sinner righteous and his subsequent declaring act of justification whereby he openly acquits the justified sinner before others is verified by our Lord’s actions in connection with the woman who washed his feet in Luke 7:36-50. He openly declares to Simon the Pharisee and to the woman herself that her many sins were forgiven (vss 47-48) ‘because she loved much [ὅτι ἠγάπησεν πολύ]’ (47). But it is apparent that she had already been actually forgiven on some previous occasion because her acts of devotion toward him – the fruit and evidence of a lively faith – were due, he states, to her having already had ‘her debt cancelled’ (41-43). The chain of events then is as follows: On some previous occasion Jesus had forgiven her (her actual justification). This provoked in her both love for him and acts of devotion toward him. This outward evidence of her justified state evoked from Christ his open declaration that she was forgiven (her declared justification)” (Robert Reymond, Paul: Missionary Theologian, [Christian Focus Publications, 2000], p. 442 n. 27). Indeed, James is teaching by doing works Abraham was declared to have already been justified by faith (James 2:23), that is his "declared justification," not that he was made right with God through works. Paul is clear that comes by faith apart from works so that no one can boast (Romans 4:2-8). James is affirming, then, works are the evidence of being declared righteous or justified by faith and they result in God openly declaring the person to be justified. This is exactly what Protestants say: we can judge if someone is truly justified by faith if their life reflects morality. Thus, we can declare someone is justified because their works demonstrate God is operative in the person's life.
Ephesians 2:8-9. Affirming justification by faith alone, Paul says the following in Ephesians 2:8-10: “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Paul could not get any clearer. Salvation or “justification,” since we are in the same conceptual world, is by faith or trust and not by works. Instead once one is justified or saved and created in Christ Jesus, he then does good works as a result. He is saved and created in Christ Jesus unto good works. Works are thus evidences of justification, not the cause. The reason no man has the ability to boast about his justification, and why God instead gets all the glory, is because human works are not involved. Instead, the empty hand of faith appropriates the finished work of Christ which then results in God justifying the person. God gets all the glory and ability to boast since He put forth His Son to be the atonement (1:7), in 2:8 He grants the person faith as part of the “gift of God” (see also Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:29), and man does not supplement God’s method of justification with human works (2:9). By adding their works in order to obtain justification or right standing with God, the Catholic ends up trying to insert that which would give him room to boast about his justification which is a rebellion against this text.
Some Catholics, again, claim Paul is only condemning Jewish ceremonial Law, that is, Jewish boundary markers like circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath keeping as not justifying, but that he is not excluding all human works. However, this can not be true for two reasons: (1) Verse 10 explains that after salvation and being united to Christ (created in Christ) Christians do the works mentioned in v. 9. So if these particular Catholics are correct then Paul would be saying Christians do the ceremonial laws such as circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath after salvation. That can not be, however, since Christians do not have to be circumcised, do Sabbath, or abide by Levitical food laws under the New Covenant (Mk. 7:19; Acts 10:13-15; 15:7-20; Col. 2:16; Matt. 11:28; Heb. 4:9-10). Thus, v. 9 is not talking about not being justified by mere boundary-markers (i.e., ceremonial law, circumcision, etc). (2) James D. G. Dunn, one of the main liberals responsible for this false idea, has already reversed his opinion and admitted in this text, “the issue does seem to have moved from one of works of law to one of human effort” (James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998], p. 371). So the Catholics who think New Perspective on Paul advocates have given them leeway in Ephesians 2:8-10 need to reconsider that assumption.
Other Catholics (Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone, [Queenship Publishing, 1997], p. 626) claim Paul is only opposed to works done in obligation to the law, but that works done in grace out of love are acceptable. However, the surrounding context of Ephesians 2 shows that a person can not merit justification by any works precisely because all humans are born dead in sin (v. 1), following Satan and worldliness (v. 2), living in sin, and being by nature or birth children of wrath (v. 3). Thus, in light of our depraved hopeless condition described here, in order to be made right with God, He is the one who has to make “us alive together with Christ” (v. 5) by granting us faith or trust (v 8) which appropriates justification since works do not (v. 9). This fuller context should make Catholics hesitate to interpret Paul as saying human works done in grace and love can justify (something Paul does not say here), but that works done out of obligation or debt cannot.
Lastly, other Catholics (Peter Dimond, The Bible Proves the Teachings of the Catholic Church, [Most Holy Family Monastery, 2009], p. 67) will appeal to Titus 3:5 as their interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9 since there is similar language in the two texts. Titus 3:5 says “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Thus they will equate being saved by faith in Ephesians 2:8 with being justified by water baptism which is their understanding of Titus 3:5. However there are two problems with this: (1) Paul says faith saves in Ephesians 2:8-9, not water baptism. He does not mention water baptism in that text. The word “faith” is pistis in the original Greek and any lexicon will tell you it means to trust or put your confidence in something. This is how Paul uses the word. (2) Titus 3:5 is not even talking about water baptism. First, baptism is never once called “washing” in all the biblical passages which mention baptism taking place or which discuss the subject. Second, it can not refer to the human act/work of baptism since the opposite of this washing of regeneration is “works done by us in righteousness.” Baptism is a work done in righteousness, the very thing the washing of regeneration said to not be. The only thing opposite of works according to Scripture is faith/trust/belief, not baptism (Romans 4:5). So this washing of regeneration must then refer to faith since it saves and since this salvation is not based on any works done in righteousness. Third, Paul already explained what this washing is in Ephesians 5:26 when he said, “he might sanctify her [the church], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). The same Greek word for washing, “loutron,” is used in both Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 5:26. In fact, Ephesians 5:26 is the only other instance of the word appearing in the New Testament. What Paul has in mind is a divine inner act of God wherein this “washing of water with the word,” as Robert Gundry notes, “identifies the cleansing water as the proclaimed gospel, belief in which washes away the filth of our trespasses and sins” (Robert Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament, [Hendrickson Publishers, 2010], p. 776 italics mine). How do we know this washing of water with the word refers to God washing our sins after we receive the gospel message? Because in many texts Paul identifies this “word” (Gk. rhēma) which washes us as the gospel message which is preached and believed (1 Corinthians 15:2; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:2). For example, Ephesians 1:13 mentions, “the word [rhēma] of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13). And Colossians 1:5 speaks of “the word [rhēma] of the truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). According to Paul the gospel is Jesus died for sins, was buried, rose and appeared (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). Thus, again this “washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5 and “washing of water with the word” in Ephesians 1:13 is a divine inner act of God which is associated with the gospel proclamation being received. Water baptism is not being discussed in either text. Some Catholics claim baptism is not a work. However, again, the only thing which is said not to be a work is faith (Romans 4:5). Baptism is never said not be a work. To claim baptism is not a work because God does it in us, as certain Catholics do, is egregious because then nothing would be considered a work since God does everything through us: both faith and all works (Philippians 2:12-13; Hebrews 13:21; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Corinthians 4:7; Philippians 1:11; Ephesians 2:10). The fact is everything outside of faith is a work (Romans 4:5), even if God does it through us. Lastly, the first century apostolic father Clement of Rome interpreted Titus 3:5 as meaning men are justified by faith apart from any consideration of works, “we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Clement, Letter to the Corinthians, 32). Clement clearly alludes to Titus 3:5’s mention of justification not being based on works wrought in righteousness but by the washing of regeneration and interprets that to mean it is by faith apart from any consideration of works. This is one of the students of the apostles interpreting Titus 3:5 this way.
2 Timothy 1:9-10. In the following text Paul once again rejects works as having anything to do with becoming right with God, i.e., being saved or justified. 2 Timothy 1:9-10 says, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:9-10). It is because of Jesus dying for sins and rising (i.e., the gospel) which we receive through God’s grace that men are saved. Works do not have anything to do with becoming right with God. Such thinking detracts from the glory God deserves in our salvation. The Greek for not because of our works is emphatic since it literally says “not according to the works of us” (Gk. ou kata ta erga hēmōn). Becoming justified, that is right with God, is not by general Catholic works.
Boasting must be excluded. Still more, it is evident Paul does not only refer to Mosaic Law, but he rejects all attempts at merit or general works justification. We know this because he stresses that no one is able to boast within a proper salvation framework (Romans 3:26-28; 4:2; Ephesians 2:8-9). If one is justified by the Ten Commandments, works of charity, loving thy neighbor, or the sacraments, as Catholics try to be, how is the ability for human boasting excluded in such a system? Clearly Paul is teaching no works justify and that is why no one can boast about their right standing with God. Any attempt to be justified by human works violates the fact that for Paul, one’s system of salvation must exclude all boasting. Receiving justification as a free gift by the empty hand of God-granted faith based totally on Jesus’ perfect atonement leaves Protestants no room to boast about their justification. However, by adding their sacramental and general works to Christ’s perfect work and the empty hand of God-granted faith, Romanists adopt a system which allows them to boast for their being justified (even if they choose not to boast).
Salvation/eternal life is a free gift. Many texts speak of salvation or eternal life being a gift or free gift to the believer (John 4:10; Romans 3:24; 5:15-17; 6:23). This only makes sense if salvation is received by the empty hand of faith. It cannot be said to be a free gift, however, if we have to do works to have it. That is not the way in which a gift is received. Gifts are given freely. As Romans 4:4 confirms, “to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (Romans 4:4). The Greek word for "gift" in these texts is dōrea. In scripture, a dōrea is received without pay, money or whatever (Matthew 10:8; 8:20; Revelation 21:6; 22:17). Therefore, it is problematic for Rome to claim the free gift of salvation or justification can be bought with human good works as opposed to simply received by the empty hand of God-granted faith.
Catholics do not trust the gospel unto salvation. In order to become right with God, one is to believe/trust/rely upon the Christ and the gospel (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:30-31; Romans 1:16; 10:9; Ephesians 1:13), which is that Christ died for sins, was buried, rose and appeared (1 Corinthians 15:1-6). The word for “believe” in such texts is pisteuō and it carries the meaning of “trusting” or “having confidence” in something (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, Walter Bauer, Frederick Danker, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, [The University of Chicago Press, 2000], pp. 816-818; Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, 2009], pp. 511-512). In other words, there is sense of “relying” or exercising your full confidence when we are exhorted to believe. Thus, Galatians 3:10-11 condemns those who "rely" on works and juxtaposes that with faith. This means faith has to do with "relying" on Christ and not on works. When the person exercises saving faith or trust/reliance in Christ and the gospel alone, that is Christ’s saving work on the cross for sins and resurrection, His atonement is applied to the person at that point in time, thus resulting in them having their sins expiated or wiped away by Jesus’ blood and God’s wrath propitiated or removed from them since it is appeased by Jesus’ sacrificed (Romans 3:25; 5:9). Now, by relying also on their general good works and sacramental works of baptism and penance in order to be right with God, Catholics are not truly trusting or relying on Christ and the gospel alone, that is, His saving cross-work/resurrection. Instead their trust is divided between Jesus' perfect work and their own Catholic works. Thus, Catholics do not truly trust or rely on Christ and His work alone for salvation (as the scriptures above command them to). Instead they trust in their works too. This is why Christians say that Catholics do not believe in Jesus and the gospel and are not saved. To be saved one has to put their full trust or reliance in Christ and his perfect work alone.
The Gospel is received by faith unto justification, not faith and works. Scripture is clear the gospel (i.e., Jesus dying for sins, rising and appearing according to 1 Cor. 15:1-6) is received by faith which leads to justification. Mark 1:15 says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Like Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Ephesians 1:13 likewise says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13). Notice in all these texts we are told believing the gospel is what saves or justifies. The Catholic attempt at redefining faith to be faith plus works will not work since it does not make sense to read these texts in such a way. It is nonsense to say “repent and believe and have works in the gospel.” Or “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe and do works in it.” Or “when you heard the gospel of your salvation, and believed and did works in the gospel of salvation, were sealed.” Redefining faith to include works mangles such texts which clearly affirm belief or trust in the gospel is the instrumental cause of salvation or justification. This is, again, because when someone believes in Christ and the gospel, Jesus’ perfect atonement is applied to them, whereby the person’s sins are expiated and the Father’s wrath lifted from them (Rom. 3:25; 5:9)
Pope Benedict XVI admits Paul taught sola fide. Because of the overwhelming biblical evidence for sola fide, Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2011 book Jesus of Nazareth, admitted Paul taught this doctrine: “Paul . . . places so much emphasis on the impossibility of justification on the basis of one’s own morality. . . If, on the other hand, we should acknowledge that Paul in no way yields to moralism in this exhortation or in any sense belies his doctrine of justification through faith and not through works, it is equally clear that this doctrine of justification does not condemn man to passivity. . .” (Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, [Ignatius Press, 2011], pp. 236-237). Notice, Benedict XVI concedes Paul rejected justification on the basis of human moral endeavor and that he taught justification by faith apart from works. This is an amazing admission.
The works Catholics claim justify are works of the law which Paul says do not. The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Council of Trent, states that observing the Ten Commandments is necessary for justification (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, [DoubleDay, 1994], par. 2068 p. 557-558). Now, although Protestants affirm striving to keeping the Ten Commandments as evidence of salvation, which is what every true believer will do, it is unbiblical to say that doing this is required to become right with God or be justified/saved. For, the Ten Commandments are part of the works of the law, that is the works done in conformity to the Mosaic Law, Paul states do not justify (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:10). Thus, Catholicism is teaching people to strive to be justified by doing things which Holy Scripture says do not justify.
Biblical Case Justification is a Once-for-all Verdict not a Process
Contrary to Rome’s false teaching that justification is a process and not a once-for-all legal declaration, we see many texts which affirm the Reformation position. This justification, a legal acquittal whereby one becomes right with God, is a one-time past completed event according to Scripture.
Luke 18:14. When the tax collector was justified in Luke 18:14, the word “justified” is in the perfect passive participle. Commenting on the implication of this, Robert Reymond notes, “The force of the perfect tense in Greek is to represent an action as complete whose finished result continues to exist. Here Jesus teaches the instantaneous once-for-all-time justification of the penitent sinner through the instrumentality of the simple prayer of faith that looks for God’s forgiveness on the ground of the shed blood of the sacrifice” (Robert Reymond, The Reformation’s Conflict with Rome, [Christian Focus Publications, 2001], p. 133).
Romans 5:1. Paul affirms the same in Romans 5:1 when he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The word for “have been justified” is Dikaiōthentes which is an aorist participle. The aorist participle refers to, as Roman Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer admits, a “once-for-all action” (Joseph. A. Fitzmyer, Romans, [DoubleDay, 1992], p. 395). Hence, justification is by faith and is a once-for-all action of God.
Hebrews 10:10. The writer to the Hebrews clearly expresses justification’s solidity when in Hebrews 10:10 he wrote, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Now, the word “sanctified” does not always carry the common meaning of growing in holiness. It can also refer to, as D. A. Carson notes, “‘positional sanctification’ or ‘definitional sanctification’. . . . Thus the Corinthians are said to be ‘sanctified’ (1 Cor 1:3), even though by the standards of customary theological discourse they are a singularly unsanctified lot. Indeed, Paul says that they are ‘sanctified’ and thus ‘called to be holy’ (1 Cor 1:3)’” (D. A. Carson, Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament, JETS 40/4, [December, 1997], p. 583). In these cases sanctification refers to being set aside for God or possessed by Him. This idea goes hand in hand with forensic justification. And here in Hebrews 10:10 we are told believers have been sanctified, that is, positionally possessed by God, through the sacrifice of Christ once for all. In other words the cross is what makes people Christian possessions of God. The word for sanctification, which based on the once-for-all atonement of Christ, is in the perfect passive participle, which again refers to a once-for-all action (Joseph. A. Fitzmyer, Romans, [DoubleDay, 1992], p. 395). Therefore, believers have been positionally set apart as Christian possessions of God in a once-for-all sense.
Hebrews 10:14. The same author then affirms, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Here sanctification is being used in a progressive sense of being made holy. So what is being said is that although true believers continue to grow in holiness, nevertheless they have been perfected for all time in God’s sight based on Jesus’ atonement. In other words, in God’s eyes Christians are perfected for all time legally, though we nevertheless grow in holiness in real time. Peter O’Brien notes the word “all time” in the sentence, “he has perfected for all time,” “emphasizes the permanent effects for believers” (Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010], p. 357). Thus, Rome’s false opinion that a true believer can lose his right standing with God and then gain it over and over is clearly erroneous.
Evidence for Sola Fide in the Early Church
A major and common error in modern Roman Catholic thinking concerns their idea that for 2000 years the church taught Rome’s view of infused justification by faith and works and that forensic justification by faith alone was a novelty invented by Martin Luther. Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis claims sola fide “was a teaching originating and popularized in the 16th century among those who have been called ‘Protestant Reformers” (Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone, [Queenship Publishing, 1997], p. xxxi). Catholics often appeal to the following assertion made by Alistair McGrath: “A fundamental discontinuity was introduced into the western theological tradition where none had ever existed, or even been contemplated, before. The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum” (Alistair McGrath, Iustitia Dei, [Cambridge University Press, 1986], pp. 186-187). However, although McGrath has produced much solid content in his works, he dropped the ball on this claim. Several studies concerning the early church and justification by faith alone have been conducted since he made that incorrect comment, and they demonstrate his error. American patristic scholar Thomas C. Oden put out a work in 2002 called The Justification Reader. In it he documented many strands of patristic thought which affirmed forensic justification by faith alone long before Martin Luther and the Reformers. Similarly, in his detailed and lengthy essay in the 2006 work Justification in Perspective, church history scholar Nick Needham documented forensic justification by faith alone in the early church as well. I will now provide some of this information.
Clement of Rome. The first century apostolic father Clement of Rome wrote, “All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 32). This is the opposite of later Roman teaching which says general and sacramental works are an instrumental cause of justification.
Letter to Diognetus. In the second century document Letter to Diognetus we see belief in justification as being based on substitutionary atonement and the gift of Christ’s righteousness, “For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and the ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!” (Letter to Diognetus, 9:3-5).
Irenaeus. Writing in the late second century Irenaeus stated, “The Lord, therefore, was not unknown to Abraham, whose day he desired to see; nor again was the Lord’s Father unknown, for Abraham had learned from the Word of the Lord, and believed Him; therefore it was accounted to him by the Lord for righteousness. For faith towards God justified a person” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.5.5). Nick Needham remarks on this quote saying, “. . .justification is attributed to faith in a simple and unqualified way” (Nick Needham, Justification in the Early Church Fathers, ed. Bruce L. McCormack, Justification in Perspective, [Baker Academic, 2006], p. 38).
Origen. Commenting on Romans 3:28 which says “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law." He stated, “Who has been justified by faith alone, without works of the law? Thus, in my opinion, that thief who was crucified with Christ should suffice for a suitable example. . . . In the gospels nothing else is recorded about his good works, but for the sake of this faith alone Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’. . . . by his confession alone, the One who was about to begin His journey to paradise received him as a justified traveling companion with Himself” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 3.9.3). Notice in explaining Romans 3:28, Origen interprets it as teaching justification by faith alone apart from consideration of any works, and he points to the thief on the cross as an example. Origen also remarked, “Was Abraham justified just because he had the faith to believe that he would be given a son? Or was it also because of all the other things which he had believed previously? . . . Before this point, Abraham had believed in part but not perfectly. Now, however, all the parts of his earlier faith are gathered together to make a perfect whole, by which he is justified” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 2:166, 168).
John Chrysostom. The fourth century church father John Chrysostom said, “. . .they were possessed with another apprehension; it was written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (Deut. 27:26). . . . they said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed, but he shows that he who adhered to faith alone was blessed” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians, on 3:8). He also affirmed “you do not receive it [salvation] by toilings and labours, but you receive it by a gift from above, contributing one thing only from your own store, believing” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 2, on 1:17). Finally he affirmed “for by faith alone He saved us” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians 5, on 2:13-15).
Theodoret of Cyrrhus. In his fourth century commentary on Paul’s epistles, Theodoret remarked, “All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler. For [Paul] adds, ‘And this not of yourselves but it is a gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).’ It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after having been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins” (Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Interpretation of the Fourteen Epistles of Paul).
Jerome. The fourth and fifth century church father Jerome wrote, “When an ungodly man is converted, God justifies him through faith alone, not on account of good works which he did not have. Otherwise he ought to have been punished on account of his ungodly deeds. . . . God purposed to forgive sins freely through faith alone” (Jerome, Expositio Quator Evangelorium Matthaeus, PL 30:568).
Ambrosiaster. The name given to a writer of a fourth century commentary on Paul’s epistles is Ambrosiaster. In this work he stated, “They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, 81). He also stated Abraham "was already justified before he was circumcised. . . . Paul revealed that Abraham had glory before God not because he was circumcised nor because he abstained from evil, but because he believed in God. For this reason he was justified, and he would receive the reward of praise in the future” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, 81:127, 129). He also stated, “How then can the Jews imagine that through the works of the law they are justified with Abraham’s justification, when they see that Abraham was justified not from the works of the law, but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law, since an impious person is justified with God through faith alone” (Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, on Romans 4:5 PL 17:86).
Ildefonsus. The seventh century bishop Ildefonsus comes very close to the Reformation doctrine of sola fide: “The beginning of human salvation comes from faith, which, when it is in Christ, is justification for the believer” (Ildefonsus, Journey through the Desert, 89). And “God, who makes the unclean clean and removes sins, justifies the sinner apart from works” (Ildefonsus, The Virginity of Mary).
Conclusion. Although the aforementioned authors cite much more evidence for justification by faith alone in the early church, this small sampling shows it certainly existed. No one, however, is saying such fathers taught the only thing involved in the Christian life is faith (i.e., the common caricature of sola fide known as antinomianism), or that they were not inconsistent at times since they affirmed the baptismal regeneration/justification as well., but what is being said is that in regards to becoming right with God, many fathers saw and taught, like the reformers, the biblical teaching that this legal justification is by faith alone apart from any works, just as Reformation Christianity affirms. Eminent historian Jaroslav Pelikan confirmed, “Rome’s reactions were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of Justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone – a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers – Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had been previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition” (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism, p. 50).
Response to Rome’s Arguments that Justification is a Process and Infusion
1 Corinthians 6:11. One of the main arguments Catholics (Peter Dimond, The Bible Proves the Teachings of the Catholic Church, [Most Holy Family Monastery, 2009], p. 61) make in trying prove justification is someone being made righteous and not legally declared righteous, and hence that justification is the same as sanctification, has to do with 1 Corinthians 6:11 which says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). However, sanctification is not used here in the sense of being made holy. Instead sanctification here refers to positional sanctification or being set apart in order to be possessed by God with a new status (D. A. Carson, Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament, JETS 40/4 [December, 1997], p. 583). We know this because although Paul identifies the Corinthians as “sanctified” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11) they are not actually a personally morally pure church. This is why Paul needs to write to them reprimanding them due to their moral failures concerning division (1:10-13), arrogance (4:18), sexual immorality (5:1), drunkenness, and fellow believers being humiliated and allowed to go hungry (11:21-22), etc. The Corinthians are positionally sanctified as possessions of God. Thus, since this sanctification here does not refer to being made personally holy, it is erroneous to equate the mention of justification with that understanding of sanctification. It is correct to affirm the Corinthians have been declared righteous (i.e., justified), set apart as God’s possession (i.e., positionally sanctified) and washed (i.e., that they submitted to baptism as a symbol of cleansing). Second, appealing to this text actually refutes the Catholic position since when Paul says they were “sanctified” and “justified,” these words are in the aorist which refers to a once-for-all action, or an action viewed as a single whole, or as an action occurring at a point. This indicates their positional sanctification and justification are not repetitive as in Romanism, but concrete and once-for-all which is consistent with Reformation thought.
Romans 3:23-24. In trying to argue that justification is not a one-time past completed event, but that a believer can lose it and regain it, Catholics often quote Romans 3:23-24 since it presents justification in the present: “23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). However, nothing in the context refers to believers losing justification and then regaining in here. In fact, the context is talking about not only Jews but Gentiles for the first time coming into right relation with God through belief in Christ (Rom. 3:20, 23, 28-30). The reason “being justified,” that is, dikaioumenoi is in the present participle, is not because this is referring to believers losing their past justification and then regaining it in the present, but because “all” (v. 23), that is, “anybody,” is justified by grace as a gift, as opposed to the basis being human works (Romans 3:20), in light of the fact that we are a naturally sinful race. It is speaking to a general truth about how people now, because of this new mode of salvation, come into right relation with God in contrast to past failed attempts at justification by human merit (Romans 3:20; 28). In other words, “this is the present reality of how people are justified."
Galatians 5:5. Catholics will often quote Galatians 5:5 in order to prove justification is not only a past event and present event, but also a future event. It states, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (Galatians 5:5). Although this text affirms there will be a final justification at judgement, which Protestants affirm, it does nothing to show forensic justification can be lost, that we get presently re-justified, and that this final justification has the ability to render null and void forensic justification on earth. This Roman network of later ideas is read into the text, not drawn out of it.
Response to Rome’s Arguments that Justification Involves Works
1 Corinthians 13:2. In order to try to show faith is not enough for justification, but that works are also required, Catholics often cite 1 Corinthians 13:2 which says, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). First, Paul is not here discussing how a person becomes right with God or passes from a state of condemnation to one of acceptance with God (i.e., justification). He is speaking generally about the life of a person. Reformation Christians would agree if a person says they have faith but has no love or works something is wrong. They have not truly been regenerated, converted, declared righteous by faith and brought to the process of sanctification, since, everyone truly justified person is also born again and goes through sanctification. However, when it comes to being declared righteous, Paul is crystal clear the instrumental cause is faith apart from any consideration of works (Romans 3:28; 4:1-6; 5:1; 10:3-4; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9-10), whereby it appropriates Christ’s work (Romans 3:25; 5:9) leading to us being declared righteous.
James 2:14-26. Catholics commonly (Patrick Madrid, Answer Me This!, [Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2003], pp. 90-91) raise James 2:14-26 as alleged proof the Reformation doctrine of forensic justification by faith alone is wrong. It says, “14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’—and he was called a friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:14-26). However, James is not discussing, as Paul does, how someone becomes right with God, that is, how one passes from a state of condemnation to one of right standing based on Christ’s atonement counting for the person (i.e., forensic justification). The term “justification” does not always mean that. Instead James is talking about a person who “says he has faith but does not have works” (v. 14), and how such a person will not be glorified or saved at judgement since believers must demonstrate they are real Christians with their lives. This is because those who are truly right with God exhibit good works such as Abraham and Rahab. They can be said to be justified by their works (vv. 21-23, 25) in that, although they are already forensically justified by faith, as Paul affirms and as James does in v. 23 when he quotes Genesis 3:15 which says Abraham believed unto justification, works perfect that legal justification leading to another justification wherein God openly declares, as Reymond notes, “when an actually (previously) justified man has demonstrated his actual righteous state by obedience and good works” (Robert Reymond, Paul: Missionary Theologian, [Christian Focus Publications, 2000], p. 442). Thus, while Paul answers how one becomes right with God (forensic justification), James answers how a forensically justified person shows they are right with God (leading to declared justification). Protestants, although believing along with Scripture that faith alone forensically justifies or makes someone right with God, affirm that faith is not alone. Instead it results in good works leading to God declaring the persons justification. As John Owen put it, “We are justified by faith alone; but we are not justified by that faith which can be alone. Alone, respects its influence into our justification, not its nature and existence. And we absolutely deny that we can be justified by that faith which can be alone; that is, without a principle of spiritual life and universal obedience, operative in of it, as duty does require” (John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, [Reformation Heritage Books, 2006], pp. 83-84). We see evidence of legal justification followed by an open justification by God in Luke 7:36-50. Reymond again noted, “That a distinction must be drawn between God’s actual act of justification whereby he pardons and constitutes the sinner righteous and his subsequent declaring act of justification whereby he openly acquits the justified sinner before others is verified by our Lord’s actions in connection with the woman who washed his feet in Luke 7:36-50. He openly declares to Simon the Pharisee and to the woman herself that her many sins were forgiven (vss 47-48) ‘because she loved much [ὅτι ἠγάπησεν πολύ]’ (47). But it is apparent that she had already been actually forgiven on some previous occasion because her acts of devotion toward him – the fruit and evidence of a lively faith – were due, he states, to her having already had ‘her debt cancelled’ (41-43). The chain of events then is as follows: On some previous occasion Jesus had forgiven her (her actual justification). This provoked in her both love for him and acts of devotion toward him. This outward evidence of her justified state evoked from Christ his open declaration that she was forgiven (her declared justification)” (Robert Reymond, Paul: Missionary Theologian, [Christian Focus Publications, 2000], p. 442 n. 27). James is speaking to this open declaration of prior justification which is evidenced by good works, not the prior justification which Protestants rightly affirm is by faith alone as Paul and other texts teach.
Romans 2:6-16. Roman Catholics often argue Romans 2:6-16 proves justification is by works. It states, “6He will render to each one according to his works: 7to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11For God shows no partiality. 12For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:6-13). However, this text discusses final justification at judgement being based on works. It has nothing to do with the Reformation notion that passing from a state of condemnation to one of right standing, that is, forensic justification is by faith alone. We affirm after forensic justification believers will do good works and that they do play a role in the final judgement. All this text refutes is some vague notion of faith alone in which works do not play a role in the Christian experience at all. However, that is not the doctrine of sola fide. As Robert Reymond explains, “But to assert, on the one hand, that men are justified by faith alone completely apart from works of law and, on the other, that final judgement is according to works is to assert two entirely different things which in no way are contradictory to one another. As we have already insisted, the justified man, justified by faith alone, will produce good works ‘in obedience to God’s commands [as] the fruits and evidence of a true and lively faith (WCF, XVI/ii)” (Robert Reymond, Paul: Missionary Theologian, [Christian Focus Publications, 2000], p. 444). However, trying to become right with God, that is, justified by the Law, which is what the Ten Commandments are part of, is not possible since if one takes that route they are required to keep all the Law perfectly which no one can do. As Galatians 3:10-11 state, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ 11Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Galatians 3:10-11). Likewise, James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). As eminent exegete Douglas J. Moo points out, “James is not suggesting that anyone is in reality fulfilling every demand of the law; he simply puts forth a ‘suppose it were so’ assumption. That person, were he to ‘stumble’ . . . at even one ‘point’ (or commandment), is guilty of breaking it all” (Douglas Moo, The Letter of James, ed. D. A. Carson, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, [Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000], p. 114).
Luke 18:18-20. Catholics often cite Luke 18:19-20 which concerns Jesus and the rich young ruler. They cite it to try to prove justification, or attaining eternal life, is by good works. It says, “18And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 19And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother” (Luke 18:18-20; cf. Matthew 19:16-19; Mark 10:17-19). However, to understand Jesus’ actual teaching here, one must consult the context of the story. The rich young ruler walked up to Christ and asked Him how he could attain eternal life (v. 18). Christ answered by saying he must keep the Mosaic commands (v. 20). The man claimed he kept all those from his youth (v. 21). Christ said he still had to sell all he had and give it to the poor in order to follow Jesus if he wished to be perfect (v. 22). The man was sorrowful and walked away because he was rich and decided not to obey (v. 23). Then Christ said “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (vv. 24-25). The disciples understood how difficult properly obeying the Law was and therefore asked, “who then can be saved?” (v. 26). Christ answered: “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (v. 27). Apart from what God might do men have not the ability to do the impossible task of adhering to the Mosaic Law to God’s satisfaction in order merit eternal life. Christ then goes on to explain how God will help humanity out of this dilemma so that they can attain eternal life in vv. 31-33. Here is the solution: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise” (vv. 31-33). This is the mode God selected for making it possible for men to be in right relation with God; a salvation which would otherwise be impossible if based on Law, human effort and/or merit. Although the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection in connection with the impossibility of salvation by Law was not understood by the Apostles but hidden from them at that time (v. 34), it is my prayer that Catholics will understand this text and see their need to rely on Christ’s death and resurrection for their right standing with God as opposed to their efforts which is not possible since God requires absolute perfection (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10; James 2:10) which we cannot attain (Romans 3:9-20). Moreover, this interpretation makes sense of the fact that just a little earlier in the same chapter, in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus condemns those who try to be justified by works, even if they believe they do them by grace, since justification is attained by a repentant faith in God where one, like the tax collector, begs for blood atonement's propitious benefits to be applied to them.
Philippians 2:12-13. In his book Not by Faith Alone, Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis quotes Philippians 2:12-13 and states, “This passage clearly shows the participation of both parties, God and man” (Robert Sungenis, Not by Faith Alone, [Queenship Publishing, 1997], p. 303). The text states, “12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). However, Paul is not talking about how one becomes right with God, which is what Protestants refer to when speaking about justification is by faith alone. Rather, Paul is talking to already justified believers about what already justified people must do insofar as “the entire course of our calling” is concerned. As Moises Silva notes, “the term salvation (or its cognate verb) need not be restricted . . . to the status of being in right relationship with God (‘Are you saved?’). It is of course true that, according to Paul, the initiative for salvation comes from God: our justification (the establishment of a right relationship) does not flow from our righteous conduct, for God ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Rom. 4:50). . . .while in a very important sense we have already been saved (Eph. 2:5, 8; Titus 3:5), in another sense we are yet to be saved (Rom. 5:9-10; 1 Cor. 3:15; 5:5; 2 Tim. 4:18). Calvin rightly claims ‘that salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling. . .” (Moises Silva, Philippians: Second Edition, eds. Robert W. Yarborough, Robert H. Stein, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, [Baker Academic, 2005], p. 121). Thus, although Christians here are exhorted to work out their salvation (i.e., the entirety of their Christian calling), they have nevertheless been justified once-for-all by faith as I have shown above. A call to complete a holy life as a believer does not refute the fact that people come into right relation with God through faith which appropriates Jesus’ work. Now, it is also important to note that the reason Paul tells the Philippians to work out their salvation in fear and trembling is explained in v. 13, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In other periphrastic words: “fearfully carry out the Christian walk in holiness lest you make God look bad since he actually works in you both to will and work.” It is the absolute sovereignty of God over the believer which is behind Paul’s call to holiness here. So rather than refute Reformed theology, this text strongly affirms it. We agree believers are to fearfully persevere in faith and works unto glorification. This does not refute Reformation theology at all.