More on Justification (Faith and Works)

Derek Ouellette —  July 29, 2010

If what I said in the last post is correct, can it be that by the doctrine of sola fide we have created a false dichotomy between “faith and works” in regards to Justification? Here is Galatians 2:15-16:

We ourselves are Jews by birth, and not gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is not justified by doing what the law requires, but rather by the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. We, too, have believed in the Messiah Jesus so that we might be justified by the faithfulness of the Messiah and not by doing what the law requires, for no human being will be justified by doing what the law requires. – Galatians 2:15-16 ISV

For starters, the phrase “law requires” is not the same as “good works”. There are a lot of people in the world today who think that they are “good” enough to “get into heaven”. But Paul is not writing to them, he is writing to “we who are Jews by birth”. For a Jew, the “law” was a reference to the covenant charter of Israel – specifically Deuteronomy 28. If they remained obedient to the law (i.e. God) they would remain in the covenant (vs. 1-14), but if they rejected the law they would be removed from the covenant (vs. 15ff.). So his readers would have understood his statement as: No person can be justified by obeying the Torah – remember the Exile? – but there is One who has been faithful to the covenant of God, and by his faithfulness (or obedience – Philippians 2:8) we are justified!

Notice the key point which Paul is making here: no one is justified by their obedience but we are justified by Christ’s obedience. Now notice the key point which Paul is not making here: he is not saying that one is justified by faith and not by works. This is one of those important implications in this debate which is bubbling under many Reformers skins.

The closer we get to comprehending this distinction the closer we come to happily embracing other often neglected passages about justification:

You observe that a person is justified through actions and not through faith alone. – James 2:24 (Luther had a good mind to reject James all together because of sola fide)

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. – Romans 2:13

For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. – Matthew 12:37 (a passage about bearing fruit in your life in keeping with repentance)

We are saved by grace through faith – there is nothing we can do to save ourselves (Ephesians 2:8-9), and when this happens we join the body of Christ and are therefore justified! All of this is possible because of Christ’s faithfulness to God on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.