Essay:Justifying Justification by Faith and Works

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The whole debate about faith and works arose during the Reformation, when the Protestant Reformers developed the Five Solas. These were five tenets which summed up the Reformers’ new beliefs. Sola fide, which means “by faith alone,” is probably the most widely known of the Five Solas, and is held as doctrine by the majority of Protestants. However, the doctrine of justification by faith alone is in contradiction to the Bible and the constant 2,000 year tradition of the Church.

Let’s start by mentioning how Protestants request chapter and verse before they will accept any doctrine. Oftentimes, Protestants want to see an exact term in Scripture, such as “Purgatory.” Well, a good way to begin demonstrating that both faith and works are necessary for justification (and salvation as well) is to look at chapter and verse for Sola fide. Okay- the one and only place that the phrase “by faith alone” appears in the Bible is in James 2:24: “So you see, man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” This seems as if it might violate the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura, but that’s a whole other story. Yes, the Epistle of James was Martin Luther’s “straw epistle,” but it’s just as inspired and just as inerrant as the rest of the Holy Bible.

A good Protestant response to James 2:24 might be Romans 3:28, which reads, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without (or apart from) the deeds of the law.” Some translations read “works of the law.” At first this seems to be in contradiction to James 2:24, but as God’s Word cannot contradict itself, someone must be getting something wrong. Let’s read the next two verses: “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith.”

The mention of Jews and circumcision makes it clear that St. Paul is not referring to good works as James is, but rather the observation of the Mosaic Law. St. Paul is saying that Gentiles can be justified along with Jews, without accepting and submitting themselves to the Jewish traditions. This makes perfect sense, because St. Paul is always known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. St. Paul always argued with the Jewish Christians when they insisted that Gentile Christians had to observe the Law. Yes, St. Paul says that we are justified by faith, but he does not say that we are justified by faith alone. He contrasts faith with observance of the Law, and remains silent on the subject of good works. James 2:24 fills in this silence. The apparent conflict between James 2:24 and Romans 3:28-30 is resolved in favor of the faith and works position. But we are not nearly done; let’s look at some more verses.

The Last Judgment account in Matthew 25:31-50 shows Jesus granting people eternal life or condemning them to Hell saying “As often as you did it” and “As often as you did not do it.” This implies that we will ultimately be saved or damned according to our good works, a concept reinforced by St. Paul in Romans 2:6 when he tells us that God’s judgment will “Render to every man according to his deeds.” But is the Last Judgment account silent on the matter of faith? No.

Some might say that those condemned to Hell never really had faith, which is why they never did good works, and so their damnation is based on the lack of true faith. But look closely. As Jesus is talking to both the saved and the condemned, they address Him as Lord. And St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No man can say that Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit.” Aren’t both the saved and condemned calling Jesus “Lord”? And if one never had faith, how could the Holy Spirit work in him? It seems as though both the saved and the condemned had faith in Jesus as Lord. Yet of all these faithful, only those who performed good works were ultimately saved.

How about this verse, in favor of the faith and works position: Matthew 7:21, in which Jesus tells us that “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.” What is the will of His Father in Heaven? Whatever it might be for each one of us, the will of the Father most certainly includes keeping the Commandments and doing good works. At the very least, this verse implies that we have to do something to be saved.

A great response to this interpretation of Matthew 7:21 is Romans 10:9, which says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Once again, it seems as though the Bible is contradicting itself, and once again, we assert that the Bible cannot contradict itself. The interpretation that reconciles this verse to the earlier conclusion that justification and salvation are brought about by both faith and works is that faith in Jesus means believing all that Jesus says; and Jesus says that good works are necessary.

Look at this interesting variation on the above interpretation. We note that Romans 10:9 mentions the heart. When the Bible speaks of the heart, or of “knowing” something, it means a very deep and serious relationship. To believe in one’s heart is, in Bible language, to have a deep and thorough faith, which encompasses everything Jesus says.

Finally, let’s take a look at the most famous verse in the whole Bible: John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, may not perish but have eternal life.” The question is once again, what does it mean to “believe in Him?” Let’s elaborate on the earlier definition of believing in Jesus. Does believing in Jesus mean merely to acknowledge and believe that He is Lord and Savior? No, because “Even the demons believe,” reads James 2:19. To believe in Him means to believe not only that He is Lord and Savior, but also to believe everything that He tells us. Jesus tells us to keep the Commandments, and He judges us by whether or not we have done good in our lives. Therefore, faith in Jesus means faith not only in Jesus as Lord, but also faith in the necessity of keeping the Commandments and doing good works.

The fact that the “faith alone” and “faith and works” positions have existed in conflict for so long shows that the Bible never declares in crystal clear terms which position is correct. The Bible does, however, sprinkle abundant clues which demonstrate the necessity of both faith and works. Of course, there are many verses which seem to uphold the “faith alone” position. The way to rectify apparent differences or contradictions in the Bible, and to prove the faith and works position, is to carefully investigate the real meaning of every verse, and to join verses together to discern the whole message. This I hope I have accomplished.

(This was final entry into last year's Persuasive Writing class taught by our own Mr. Schlafly.) User:AddisonDM

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