Justification By Faith, Part 3

After we defined what faith was (and wasn’t) in Part 2, we then openly wondered about the interplay between living faith and bad (or no) works. Does the presence of bad works—disobedience—indicate that one did not have faith or salvation? Next, we noted that, while Jesus in the second gospel contrasts belief with unbelief:

Mark 16:16
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

But, in the fourth gospel he contrasts belief with disobedience:

John 3:36
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

What is the significance of that?

The Opposite of Belief is…

In John 3:36, true belief—living faith—stands opposed, not to unbelief, but to disobedience. Since “works” are “obedience to God,” a living faith is shown by its works (obedience) and a dead faith has no works (disobedience). John 3:36 is thus equivalent to James 2:

If you have no belief (dead faith), you are disobedient (no works).

Although it may seem non-intuitive, John 3:36 is not concerned with the relationship between faith and works. It is concerned with having both or having neither. There is no middle ground. Thus, this verse is explicitly saying that works do not merit salvation.

“How can this be?”

Imagine that your works had some meritorious impact on your salvation. This would necessarily imply a qualitative difference between “faith alone” and “faith and works”, or, alternatively, imply that “faith without works” and “faith with works” are actually possible discretely separate states. But if these states are possible, then it must be possible to simultaneously have faith (“believes the Son”) while being disobedient (“does not obey the Son”). This directly logically contradicts John 3:36. Since it is impossible both to have eternal life and not have eternal life, it is also impossible to both have faith and be disobedient.

This completely invalidates the idea of works having a meritorious impact on salvation.

John 3:36 must be viewed with its preceding context:

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Faith means action-oriented belief and trust. I call it ‘living faith’ to contrast it with ‘dead faith’, because one can have belief and trust in many things, not just Christ. One can abstractly believe in Christ and this still be dead. I call it ‘existing faith’ to contrast it with ‘earned faith’, because one just is (descriptive) and the other is not (prescriptive). I say ‘saving faith’ to incorporate both ‘living’ and ‘existing’ concepts and to contrast it with ‘no faith.’ It’s just nuance on the same concept.

But if faith is a “living” process—involving both faith and obedience—then how can salvation be a one-shot “forensic declaration?”

If salvation was based on merit, then any bad work (disobedience) would—by John 3:36—be proof that you had no faith: not poor faith, but no faith at all. John 3:36 leaves no room for error: not obeying means you are subject to death and God’s wrath. As Paul said in Romans, under the ‘curse of the Law’, even a single sin condemns.[1]

John 3:36 doesn’t contrast belief with lack of belief. It contrasts belief with disobedience. How can this be since—per John 3:16—belief leads to eternal life? John 3:36 shows that belief is obedience, just as disbelief is disobedience: disobedience (ἀπειθέω) has the dual meaning to willfully refuse to believe and to refuse to obey.

What is the opposite of belief? Both unbelief and disobedience.

What is the opposite of obedience? Both unbelief and disobedience.

What is the opposite of unbelief? Both belief and obedience.

What is the opposite of disobedience? Both belief and obedience.

If one has faith, one has obedience as a consequence—an effect—caused by their faith.

Separating Faith and Works

The Roman Catholic sacramental system decouples faith and works. But they can’t be separated. You can’t merit a faith that saves by doing prescribed works: if you already have saving faith, you by definition already have works (e.g. John 3:36). Your deeds are performed because you are faithful.

James 2:24
You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

Faith and works are inseparable: both or none. Righteous or not. But—most importantly—you are already righteous when you do your works, not because you are doing them, but because you first believed. You show your (existing) faith by your deeds (e.g. James 2:18). If you didn’t believe, you wouldn’t have been obedient.

1 John 2:24-25
See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

Having heard the gospel, received it, and retained it, you will remain in the Son and Father and have eternal life. It is completed and assured. You can do nothing more for salvation, but you are not done outwardly proving and demonstrating…

1 Peter 1:6-7
You rejoice in this, even though now for a little while, you must suffer various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your trust—which is more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire—will be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the appearing of Jesus Christ.

…nor done learning:

1 John 2:20,27
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. [..] The anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

The teachings, arguments, and interpretations of men guide us, but God’s Word—in all its manifestations—is the final authority. The Spirit within is wholly sufficient. How could the power of God be lacking in any way or the Spirit’s teaching insufficient?

Mark 16:16
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

To believe is to obey. Obedience is the result of one’s faith.

Works, love, obedience, etc. are different from faith—belief; trust. But they cannot be separated from faith itself. Though inseparable, they are different and their differences are meaningful. Faith has a specific, explicit role in salvation:

Ephesians 2:8-9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

There can be no self-made, works-based salvation. Salvation—through faith—is a gift from God. How a Christian understands “righteous”, “sanctified”, or “justified”—and different denominations view these very differently indeed—can in no way undermine that salvation through faith is. So…

James 2:24
You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

…you are considered righteous by faith and works and you are saved by grace through faith not by your works. There is no imagined conflict between faith and works. Indeed, if there was an issue between faith and works, there would be no faith. Rather, the issue is the denial that one is “saved by grace alone thru faith alone in Christ alone.”

Separating Sheep and Goats

At final judgment there are two kinds of people: the pure sheep and the wicked goats (see: Matthew 25:31-46; Ezekiel 20:34-38; 34:11-24). The goat has long been associated with evil (e.g. Leviticus 16:8; Leviticus 17:7; 2 Chronicles 11:15; Isaiah 14:9; Zechariah 10:3). See the NET translation of Leviticus 16:8 for a detailed discussion in the footnote on the goat-demon Azazel. The association of goats with the occult is an ancient one that spans multiple cultures and continues through modern times (e.g. Baphomet).

All the nations are split into two groups: a pure group (white sheep) and an evil group (black goats), representing believers and unbelievers. In making the metaphor more graphic to the listeners, Jesus was able to say a lot without using words.

When a shepherd separated his flock, he could do so by color. Similarly, Jesus will easily separate the righteous from the unrighteous. The separation between those who are saved and those who are destroyed will be a binary decision. This is an essential point that was obvious to the original audience. It is obvious to us too, because Jesus told us that people are judged on their words, on whether or not they have faith. There is no third category for believers who did not do enough works:

Matthew 12:37
For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

Many commentators say that Jesus was merely giving a parable, because they don’t believe Jesus is actually returning to separate the nations for judgment at that time. Since this involves people who go straight from living into final judgment, bypassing death, it necessarily invalidates the doctrine of purgatory. So commentators…get creative.

Faith is Internal, Works are External

Salvation has always been by faith alone. One’s works are not their own, even for Jesus (John 5:19)! Works are a product of the One that dwells within the worker. A person is inwardly saved by grace through faith, receives the Holy Spirit (w/ baptism and laying on of hands), and outwardly lives and learns by the Spirit (1 John 2). Works—and thus, righteousness—are not truly from oneself, but a product of the Spirit as unmerited grace through faith that one receives. But belief, unlike works, does come from oneself.

FAITH ALONE” is not ‘only faith exists [absent works]’. That’s actually an absurd explanation. Rather, it is correct to say that faith alone is sufficient for salvation by grace. There are no conditions. The mere existence of any works sufficiently reflects—demonstrates—existing faith and salvation. By contrast, under a meritorious salvation, the lack of good self works—or the presence of an evil work—invalidates one’s faith and condemns them to death: dead faith by single misdeed. But if works come from the Spirit, then righteousness (i.e. perfection) cannot be based on any set of works, for the Spirit is always Holy. Logically, salvation excludes considering the quantity or quality of works:

Hebrews 10:14
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

There it is again! You are perfect, yet you are being made Holy. You are righteous—justified—but the Spirit within is making you holy. Salvation is complete, but learning—sanctification—never ends (1 John 2). Justification is imputed (i.e. ‘one-shot’).

The inward/outward dichotomy is on full display in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Philippians 1:18-20 (REV)
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayer and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will result in my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.

In Philippians 1, Paul dives into an impassioned discussion about his imprisonment and suffering and how it advances the gospel (v12-17). The suffering doesn’t matter, because the gospel is proclaimed (v18). Paul rejoices because Christ delivers him from those sufferings (v19) through life or martyrdom (v20-26). It will magnify Christ and the church either way.

Philippians 2:12-13 (REV)
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence, continue to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is working in you both to want to do, and to do, his good pleasure.

In Philippians 2, Paul notes that in those who are saved, God is working. The in-works of God produce the out-works. In fear and trembling, we must submit to the Spirit to do his pleasure (the out-works). Of, κατεργάζομαι, Strong’s concurs:

“From kata and ergazomai; to work fully, i.e. Accomplish; by implication, to finish, fashion — cause, to (deed), perform, work (out). “

We do not work for our salvation. We do not figure out our salvation. It is as we discussed above, we fully perform (or demonstrate) our salvation by obedience to the Holy Spirit working within us. No one can perform, demonstrate, fully work out, or finish that which they do not already have (see Hebrews 10:14, also cited above).

Paul, echoing what he just said in Philippians 1, says of works and faith:

Philippians 3:7-11
But everything that was gain to me, these things I have considered as loss because of Christ.But even more than that, I consider all things as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things—and consider them dung—in order to gain Christ and be found in union with him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that is through trust in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God based on trust. My goal is to know him: to experience the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his obedience unto death, that through whatever happens, I will arrive at the resurrection from among the dead.

Those works—the righteousness that comes from following the Law—are like animal excrement; waste to be thrown away (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Only righteousness from faith in Christ matters. Works are an out-working of that faith and the in-working of God that continues until the day you die or Christ returns.

Faith Alone

Why is faith “alone” even though the Bible doesn’t use the word “alone” to describe faith?

First, as Jesus explicitly said that everyone will be judged by their words, so too does Paul associate salvation with words. When Paul mentions faith, he accompanies this with words like ‘gospel’, ‘heard’, ‘message’, ‘taught’, ‘believed’, etc. Faith is belief, and belief is of words. It is words—alone—by which you are saved or condemned.

Second, when Paul mentions salvation, time and again it is faith alone that is mentioned. Not the words “faith alone”, but “faith” alone—by itself. No other conditions are placed upon salvation. He doesn’t use the word alone, because it is implied and unnecessary. This is just basic language comprehension: even children understand this. It would be like saying “Go clean your room!” and them retorting “But you didn’t say NOW!” It is willfully obstinate and disobedient.

Third, Paul contrasts faith and works in the context of grace and salvation, explicitly stating that faith does not involve works.

The supposed counter to these is James. But James gives the relationship between faith and works by immediately preceding “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” by saying Abraham was righteous because of his belief—his words. Faith and works are correlated, but works are not the cause of righteousness: righteousness causes works. As we discussed above, any other view is contradictory.

One is righteous by their faith—their words. From righteousness comes works, so one has both righteousness and works. Inversely, if they were not righteous, they would not have works. Therefore, one cannot be righteous if they have faith alone, but rather they are righteous only if they also have works. But, as with Abraham, faith alone causes righteousness.

James 2:21-24 (REV)
Was not Abraham our father declared righteous by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his trust was working together with his works, and his trust was made complete by his works, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is declared righteous by works, and not by trust alone.

God made a Covenant with Abraham and promised him a son from which nations would come. Abraham believed God and was justified from that moment: he was right (i.e. correct) to believe God. But, he was not yet made right (i.e. proven correct): this faith—trust— Abraham placed in the Covenant with God was not fulfilled (i.e. made complete). It was still just a promise until—thirty years after his justification in Genesis 15:6—Abraham obeyed God—in Genesis 22—and attempted to sacrifice his son and God stopped him. It was the act of God stopping Abraham that fulfilled the Covenant’s promise, not Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son! And Abraham was made right (i.e. proven correct): his faith (for an heir) was not misplaced.

James 2:25-26
And in the same way, was not also Rahab the prostitute declared righteous by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also trust without works is dead.

In the same way, Rahab put her trust into God’s people. Her trust was justified—proven correct—when she let the spies go and as a result preserved her own life.

A person is justified—in their faith—by what they do, not only by what they believe. By and through your actions, God proves faithful to the trust you have placed in him. Both Abraham and Rahab took risks. Their belief was tested to the extreme, against all odds. But they prevailed because they stood firm in that trust. God came through for them. Their faith in God was, indeed, fully justified, not because of their works, but because of the God who proved trustworthy.

But what about the demons? Why does their faith make them tremble? When their faith in God is finally fulfilled, what happens to them? Thrown into the lake of fire.


[1] Roman Catholicism has tried to get around this rather obvious conclusion by dividing sins into different categories. Some sins are “moral sins” which are subject to what I have described above. Other ‘lesser’ sins don’t qualify. According to Roman Catholicism, Jesus must have been talking about sins included in the former category here, not the latter. This is, to put it as delicately as possible, plain eisegesis. It is fiction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *