Justification by Faith Alone -- A Biblical Doctrine

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The Bible teaches that sinners are justified (declared righteous) through faith alone, and not by works:

10. We teach that conversion consists in this, that a man, having learned from the Law of God that he is a lost and condemned sinner, is brought to faith in the Gospel, which offers him forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation for the sake of Christ's vicarious satisfaction, Acts 11:21; Luke 24:46, 47; Acts 26:18.

11. All men, since the Fall, are dead in sins, Eph. 2:1-3, and inclined only to evil, Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Rom. 8:7. For this reason, and particularly because men regard the Gospel of Christ, crucified for the sins of the world, as foolishness, 1 Cor. 2:14, faith in the Gospel, or conversion to God, is neither wholly nor in the least part the work of man, but the work of God's grace and almighty power alone, Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8; 1:19; -- Jer. 31:18. Hence Scripture call the faith of men, or his conversion, a raising from the dead, Eph. 1:20; Col. 2:12, a being born of God, John 1:12, 13, a new birth by the Gospel, 1 Pet, 1:23-25, a work of God like the creation of light at the creation of the world, 2 Cor. 4:6.

12. On the basis of these clear statements of the Holy Scriptures we reject every kind of synergism, that is, the doctrine that conversion is wrought not by the grace and power of God alone, but in part also by the co-operation of man himself, by man's right conduct, his right attitude, his right self-determination, his lesser guilt or less evil conduct as compared with others, his refraining from willful resistance, or anything else whereby man's conversion and salvation is taken out of the gracious hands of God and made to depend on what man does or leaves undone. For this refraining from willful resistance or from any kind of resistance is also solely a work of grace, which "changes unwilling into willing men," Ezek. 36:26; Phil. 2:13. We reject also the doctrine that man is able to decide for conversion through "powers imparted by grace," since this doctrine presupposes that before conversion man still possesses spiritual powers by which he can make the right use of such "powers imparted by grace."

17. Holy Scripture sums up all its teachings regarding the love of God to the world of sinners, regarding the salvation wrought by Christ, and regarding faith in Christ as the only way to obtain salvation, in the article of justification. Scripture teaches that God has already declared the whole world to be righteous in Christ, Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Rom. 4:25; that therefore not for the sake of their good works, but without the works of the Law, by grace, for Christ's sake, He justifies, that is, accounts as righteous, all those who believe, accept, and rely on, the fact that for Christ's sake their sins are forgiven. Thus the Holy Ghost testifies through St. Paul: "There is no difference; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," Rom. 3:23, 24. And again: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the Law," Rom. 3:28.

18. Through this doctrine alone Christ is given the honor due Him, namely, that through His holy life and innocent suffering and death He is our Savior. And through this doctrine alone can poor sinners have the abiding comfort that God is assuredly gracious to them. We reject as apostasy from the Christian religion all doctrines whereby man's own works and merit are mingled into the article of justification before God. For the Christian religion is the faith that we have forgiveness of sins and salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, Acts 10:43.

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932).

-- Steve Jackson (SteveJ100@hotmail.com), August 14, 1999


What was/is the Missouri Synod? I feel this is some form of rationalization of a stance of which The Catholic could question. Perhaps other Cathlics could clarify this please. Steve are you Lutherin as I feel the are next door neighbours to our Church much as the Anglicans are.

I listen often to International Radio Europe and it is still staed the German mind is the most disruptive on issues pertianig to the bible. Where they (Germans) ifiltrate they cause many schisms in the community of Christians. Most have the Man as God attitude. +Peace+

-- jean bouchardRC (jeanb@cwk.imag.net), August 15, 1999.

Steve - A thought just occured to me in that your view of faith alone negates Chrsit's new commandment " Love one another as I have loved you " In addition He said Faith Hope and Charity the greatest of these being Charity. Perhaps that is what I sense the lack of it in your posts. So much righteous anger is not good for the soul. +Peace+

-- jean bouchardRC (jeanb@cwk.imag.net), August 15, 1999.

Can someone clarify the division between faith and works for me.

On the one hand there are 'works' that refer to deeds, virtuous acts etc - ("man's own works and merits" in Steve's post), and then there are(I think) the 'works' of Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist etc which begin and sustain the 'sacred infusion' that is necessary for salvation.

Is this an argument about faith alone being sufficient for salvation, regardless of whether it bears fruit or not(or worse)? Or is this an argument about the necessity of these physical rituals in addition to the act of merely believing?

The former argument is daft - its obvious that faith alone in this sense is not sufficient. If it the latter argument that is the subject of all these posts, then I think I am finally getting somewhere.

-- Matthew (mdpope@hotmail.com), August 15, 1999.

Matthew --

Man is not saved by a "sacred infusion." Man is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9.) Man's will is in bondage to the devil. Therefore, if a man believes in Jesus, it is not of his own "free will," but rather by being chosen (predestined) by God to believe. As Paul says: "For it is God which worketh in you both TO WILL and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13.)

Think about it. If by my own intelligence, insight, or whatever I analyzed the facts and decided to become a Christian, then it would be a "work" on my part. Then I could boast that I was more clever than those who didn't believe. However Paul says the believer can't boast!

-- Steve Jackson (SteveJ100@hotmail.com), August 15, 1999.

I don't know if what I am about to say has any Biblical foundation, but this is what my instinct makes of what you have just said...

Salvation cannot be earnt by any degree of works, and by this I mean virtuous acts and such like. I think it was C.S.Lewis who said that it didn't matter whether you stood on Mt. Everest or swam in the Dead Sea. You still cannot reach out and touch the Moon. Although no-one can redeem themselves solely through virtuous acts, I still believe that we are expected to try. There is no room for complacency. You cannot accept the grace of God and remain unchanged; Repentance is one of the conditions of God's grace, and it is not offered on any other terms.

It is right that no Christian should boast of his salvation or any virtuous acts. God's grace should impose humility, but I don't see how regarding yourself as "chosen" or "predestined" can achieve this. Surely it is arrogant and boastful to regard yourself as "chosen" in this way. Whether you choose to accept something that others reject (free will), or are "chosen" whereas others are "rejected" (predestination), it is impossible not to see yourself as distinguished (either by one's own will, or by God's). The correct response to this is try and extend the offer of God's grace to others, and not bask in your and delusions of self-righteousness.

It is possible to feel smug about one's decision to follow Christ, and the damnation of those who don't, but I know very few Christians who feel this way. Most are filled with a sense of urgency to convince others to make the same decision, and do not dwell on how fortunate they are - God's offer of grace should never be seen as a personal one, but rather a universal message which you are duty bound to spread if you choose to receive it. I don't speak from personal experience; I always was a lousy envangelist.

-- Matthew (mdpope@hotmail.com), August 15, 1999.

The endless debate about "works" confused me for awhile, since it's obvious that Christians are required by Jesus to DO certain things.

I finally concluded that what protestants principally don't want to DO is engage in the sacraments, particularly those of Communion & Confession.

So ask yourself, "WHY would a fellow Christian wish to lead me AWAY from the sacraments which Jesus Himself instituted as a conduit of His grace in my life?"

Interesting question, no?

-- just (a@visiting.catholic), August 15, 1999.

Matthew --

The following should answer your question on predestination:

13. On the other hand, we reject also the Calvinistic perversion of the doctrine of conversion, that is, the doctrine that God does not desire to convert and save all hearers of the Word, but only a portion of them. Many hearers of the Word indeed remain unconverted and are not saved, not because God does not earnestly desire their conversion and salvation, but solely because they stubbornly resist the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, as Scripture teaches, Acts 7:51; Matt. 23:37; Acts 13:46.

14. As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God's grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it. From Scripture we know only this: A man owes his conversion and salvation, not to any lesser guilt or better conduct on his part, but solely to the grace of God. But any man's non-conversion is due to himself alone; it is the result of his obstinate resistance against the converting operation of the Holy Ghost. Hos. 13:9.

15. Our refusal to go beyond what is revealed in these two Scriptural truths is not "masked Calvinism" ("Crypto- Calvinism") but precisely the Scriptural teaching of the Lutheran Church as it is presented in detail in the Formula of Concord (Triglot, p. 1081, paragraphs 57-59, 60b, 62, 63; M. p. 716f.): "That one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is converted again, etc. -- in these and similar questions Paul fixes a certain limit to us how far we should go, namely, that in the one part we should recognize God's judgment. For they are well-deserved penalties of sins when God so punished a land or nation for despising His Word that the punishment extends also to their posterity, as is to be seen in the Jews. And thereby God in some lands and persons exhibits His severity to those that are His in order to indicate what we all would have well deserved and would be worthy and worth, since we act wickedly in opposition to God's Word and often grieve the Holy Ghost sorely; in order that we may live in the fear of God and acknowledge and praise God's goodness, to the exclusion of, and contrary to, our merit in and with us, to whom He gives His Word and with whom He leaves it and whom He does not harden and reject...And this His righteous, well-deserved judgment He displays in some countries, nations and persons in order that, when we are placed alongside of them and compared with them (quam simillimi illis deprehensi, i.e., and found to be most similar to them), we may learn the more diligently to recognize and praise God's pure, unmerited grace in the vessels of mercy...When we proceed thus far in this article, we remain on the right way, as it is written, Hos. 13:9: `O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.' However, as regards these things in this disputation which would soar too high and beyond these limits, we should with Paul place the finger upon our lips and remember and say, Rom. 9:20: `O man, who art thou that repliest against God?'" The Formula of Concord describes the mystery which confronts us here not as a mystery in man's heart (a "psychological" mystery), but teaches that, when we try to understand why "one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is converted again," we enter the domain of the unsearchable judgments of God and ways past finding out, which are not revealed to us in His Word, but which we shall know in eternal life. 1 Cor. 13:12.

16. Calvinists solve this mystery, which God has not revealed in His Word, by denying the universality of grace; synergists, by denying that salvation is by grace alone. Both solutions are utterly vicious, since they contradict Scripture and since every poor sinner stands in need of, and must cling to, both the unrestricted universal grace and the unrestricted "by grace alone," lest he despair and perish.

(See www.lcms.org for the full Confession.)

That the Christian knows he has been chosen by God inspires humility because it proves that his salvation is 100% the work of God. The Christian knows that he too is a sinner and doesn't deserve what Christ did on the Cross. More than that, we cannot say.

-- Steve Jackson (SteveJ100@hotmail.com), August 15, 1999.

All very fine input for sure.

A Parrable: A man died went to heaven and was escorted by his Guardian Angel to his new home. On the way they passed a large mansion. Asking who lives there he was told The Buerett family. When the husband died his widow worked with the poor in the slums of NYC and her children followed her lead.

Continuing on they passed a lovely ranch-style house with a very large garden. Who is there? A man who had cancer when very young and he prayed for others until his death.

Finally they arrived at his new 'home' a one room shack with an outhouse. This is mine for ever? No way! Well the angel " you see you did not send up much building material. " +Peace+

-- jean bouchardRC (jeanb@cwk.imag.net), August 15, 1999.


Thanks for the thirty seconds worth of work that your "cut and paste" from the MSL site represents. Thanks too for the indepth interaction with my own writings on this topic, to which I referred you. Sorry for the sarcasm but frankly after months of bomb throwing in here, to which we have replied in detail, for you to just cut a section off of the MSL Web site and post it here is pretty lame.

For those inclined to read a detailed analysis of the Protestant doctrine of sola fide please see my essay at:


The portion on justification is at the end of the document.

Steve, I will be responding to this in good time; I only get one lunch break per day ;-D. Please do see my comments on Martin Luther (or should I say, his comments on himself); I hope you can spare a few minutes to reply to those. Thanks.

-- Franklin Journier (ready4y2k@yahoo.com), August 16, 1999.

Ha!!! I see I've just outed myself ;-D. Joke's on me!

-- Franklin Journier (ready4y2k@yahoo.com), August 16, 1999.

David/Franklin --

I selected these passages because they correctly set forth the biblical doctrine of justification of faith. I did not want to start with your false position. The truth should be presented first and then falsehood exposed.

-- Steve Jackson (SteveJ100@hotmail.com), August 16, 1999.

I would suggest the book of James to thoroughly refute the LCMS notion of Faith Alone. This presents apparent contradictions in Paul's writings between faith and works. I suggest going to http://www.trincomm.org, entering the "Most Database" and searching for 2 files. One is Paul Focusing - it presents a method of exegesis that in my mind solves this problem. Another good file, (though huge - it is actually a book in print available from Christendom Press) is "The Though of St. Paul".

Faith without works is dead.

-- ubi (ubi@petros.com), August 17, 1999.

Mathew - I for one think you would do okay as a teacher of faith. You speak from the heart and that is all God wants from anyone of us.

Infusion being questioned for it is not a question at all be redundent in it's context. The Catholic Church's Deposit Of Faith is not a REVOLUTION rather an evolution through Christ to be redeemed from the Fall Of Man due to Adam and Eve.

Again I feel many are not truly aware of the Reign Of Satan and it's hold on man until Christ came and crushed the head of the serpent resulting in freedom of man once again.

We are fortunate in have a Father in Heaven who did not turn His back but rather Saccriced His Own Son for our rebellion. Whenever I think of that in depth I feel terrible for my lack of total gratitude. +Peace+

-- jean bouchardRC (jeanb@cwk.imag.net), August 17, 1999.


I suggest that for quite a number of reasons, the burden of proof is on you to explain how the doctrine of exclusively forensic justification, by faith alone, is supported by Scripture. I will explain below why the burden falls so exclusively on you. A few prooftexts thrown out (as you did above) will not suffice to discharge your burden.

We should note at the beginning of this discussion that the Reformed phrase "sola fide" contains a great many unspoken details, all of which must be supported by the adherent to this doctrine. All of the points below are supported by statements from Reformed theologians in my paper that I cited above:

1) Justification is a one-time event and in no way a process.

2) Justification is exclusively a legal declaration by God as Judge of our righteous status (i.e. it is forensic), not an act of God as Father making us ethically righteous.

3) The event of justification is something quite distinct from the process of sanctification.

4) Justification is by faith alone, with no admixture of necessary obedience to God whatsoever.

5) According to Martin Luther, the faith that justifies is unformed by any other factor, including even love, lest there be any admixture of faith and works in justification.

6) This doctrine of justification by faith alone, as defined above, is the very heart of the Gospel and any who hold a different view are anathema based on St. Paul's teaching in Galatians 1.

The burden of proof for the points above lies on you for the following reasons:

*** The New Testament nowhere says that justification is by faith alone. At best this doctrine would have to be found implicitly, since it is never stated explicitly.

*** If one does a word study on dikaioo, "to justify", we find that the Scriptures do indeed say that justification is by faith. But the Scriptures also have this to say about justification:

You see that a man is justified [dikaiotai] by works, and not by faith alone (James 2:24).

For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned (Matt 12:37).

For it is not the hearers of the law who will be righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified (Rom 2:13).

On this latter verse, it cannot be said to be hypothetical since the Apostle immediately goes on to say that the Gentiles do indeed do what is required by the law, even without knowing the law. Nor can his citation of Psa 14 in Rom 3:10 be taken to mean that no one can act righteously in God's sight, unless one is willing to argue that St. Paul purposely wrenched a phrase from Psalm 14 out of context and distorted the meaning of that entire psalm just so he could use it in Rom 3:10 to negate what he said in Rom 2:13 (read all of Psa 14 and see what I mean).

So, far from teaching that justification is by faith alone, Scripture explicitly teaches that justification is also by works, by words, and by the doing of the law.

*** The Greek verb dikaioo has as its native meaning "to make righteous." Although in contexts in which the subject of the verb is a human it sometimes has the meaning "to declare righteous", this is only because of a inherent limitation in man; a human judge, for example, is unable to make somebody righteous but only to declare them righteous. God suffers under no such limitation and therefore the word should be allowed to have its natural meaning, to "make righteous."

*** Several Scripture passages make it quite clear that righteousness has a necessary ethical dimension; that is, it is about doing righteous deeds and obeying God, not just being declared legally righteous while remaining objectively sinful and disobedient:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. (Matt 6:1; cf. Matt 25:31-40)

And they [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. (Luke 1:6)

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:20)

And opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right [literally "the one working righteousness"], is welcome to Him." (Acts 10:35)

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29)

For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. (1 John 3:11-12)

*** The Apostle John says that it is possible to "be" righteous by "doing righteousness":

Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous . . . . anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God. (1 John 3:7, 10)

*** The Scriptures explicitly say that it is not possible to "declare righteous" that which is in fact unrighteous.

Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked. (Exod 23:7; KJV)

If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. (Deut 25:1)

. . . then hear Thou from heaven and act and judge Thy servants, punishing the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness. (2 Chron 6:23)

See also Mic 6:11; Isa 5:23; 43:26; 50:8; Ezek 44:24.

*** The Scriptures do indeed say that justification is by faith and not by "works of the law". But what are "works of the law"? Does this phrase really include grace-filled acts of obedience to Christ? No. The early Church understood this to mean what more recent Scripture studies have confirmed. Works of the law for St. Paul, "refers not to an individual's striving for moral improvement, but to a religious mode of existence, a mode of existence marked out in its distinctiveness as determined by the law, the religious practices which demonstrate the individual's 'belongingness' to the people of the law" (J.D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians, 220). This observation has been backed up by the Dead Sea scrolls where the Hebrew equivalent for "works of the Law" is used in precisely this same manner. These kind of works delineated Jews from non-Jews and were especially exemplified by circumcision and dietary laws, the very facets of the law engaged by the Apostle in Romans and Galatians.

This kind of adherence to the Law, rather than faith, had become for many of the Jews the ground of their confidence of being in God's covenant, hence their propensity to "boast" about their covenant status (Rom 2:17-29). So when St. Paul told the Romans and Galatians that a man is not justified by works of the law (Gal 2:16; cf. Rom 3:20, 28), he is not saying that no one can be justified by doing "good works" that emanate by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but rather that justification is available on an equal footing to all -- Gentiles and Jews alike -- through faith in Jesus Christ and not through necessary adherence to Torah.

*** "Faith Alone" does not appear to be the theme of either Romans or Galatians, the principal books on which this doctrine is allegedly based. Rather, St. Paul indicates the message of Romans by use of an inclusio; he brackets the entire epistle to the Romans with the real theme of his Gospel, not faith alone but "the obedience of faith" (see Romans 1:5 and 16:25-26). And in Galatians the Apostle makes it clear that it is not faith alone but "faith working through love" that is active to salvation (Gal 5:6).

*** Martin Luther was unable to find any individual prior to 1517 who held to this doctrine of forensic justification by faith alone. Given that the Greek verb dikaioo means "to make righteous" not "to declare righteous" it is little wonder that the Greek Fathers did not see or subscribe to Luther's invention. But Luther turned to the Western church with no more success. Even his beloved Augustine failed to see what Luther asserted was so clear in Scripture: "Augustine has sometimes erred and is not to be trusted. Although good and holy, he was yet lacking in the true faith, as well as the other fathers. . . . But when the door was opened for me in Paul, so that I understood what justification by faith is, it was all over with Augustine" (Luther's Works, American ed., 54, 49). Protestant scholar Alistair MacGrath, in his study of the history of the doctrine of justification, is forced to admit that forensic justification by faith alone was a "theological novum." Simply put, nobody prior to Luther saw in Scripture what he asserted was the very heart of the Gospel.

So, Steve, please discharge your burden and explain to us:

1) Why justification is never said to be by "faith alone" anywhere in the Bible if this is the very heart of the Gospel.

2) Why Scripture does say that men are justified by works, words, and "doing the law" in addition to faith.

3) Why the only place in Scripture where "justified" and "faith alone" occur together is James 2:24 where the text explicitly says that justification is "not by faith alone."

4) Why you believe the Greek verb "dikaioo" should not be allowed to have its natural meaning of "to make righteous".

5) How your view can eliminate the obvious ethical dimension of biblical righteousness and reduce justification strictly to a legal decree.

6) How the Apostle John could say that it is possible to "be righteous" by "doing righteousness."

7) How it is possible for God to declare to be righteous that which is in fact unrighteous, contrary to His own Word.

8) Why Luther's understanding of "works of the law" runs so against both Jewish and prior Christian understanding of that phrase.

9) Why both Romans and Galatians indicate that their theme is not faith alone but "the obedience of faith" and "faith working through love."

10) Why Luther could find no one who agreed with him in the prior 1500 years of Church history, if this is the clear teaching of Scripture and the very heart of the Gospel.

11) How this can be the very heart of the Gospel if nobody prior to 1517 saw it in Scripture.

There are a lot more questions and avenues of evidence that could be raised but I'll save those for a follow-up.

Thanks for your consideration on these points.

-- David Palm (djpalm64@yahoo.com), August 19, 1999.

A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932).

In other words, Traditions of Men. :-)

-- Lane Core Jr. (elcore@sgi.net), September 07, 1999.

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