This article surveys Scripture and the confessions to outline the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Our justification is not dependent upon good works.

Source: The Banner of Truth, 2003. 9 pages.

Justification by Faith Alone

Ask the average person whether he thinks he will go to heaven or not and he will most likely answer that he is doing the best he can, and that he is as good as the next man. There is a recent country song 'Where I Come From' that has a line that expresses this concept, namely, that all are 'working hard to get to heaven'. In America today the popular religion is that we are all going to heaven, as expressed by President Clinton just a few years ago regarding those who died in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Such a concept is the devil's lie! The Bible is clear and explicit in its teaching that no one will be saved or justified by the works of the law. The suicide of the Muslims involved in the bombing of the Trade Towers and the Pentagon was based on the false teaching that men earn their way to heaven by works or deeds they perform. What a rude awakening those men had the moment they died! Instead of awakening in heaven, they awakened in hell, where they will spend all eternity!

Many who believe they are Christians entertain incorrect views about the nature of salvation. Luther as a young man believed that he would be saved by his works. Indeed, he entered into the monastic life hoping that he could earn salvation. In the monastery he discovered the Bible, and in the Bible he discovered the Gospel. As he studied Romans and Galatians, he discovered that the just shall live by faith alone. R. C. Sproul says that Luther identified justification by faith alone with the gospel. 'The "good news" of the New Testament includes not only an announcement of the person of Christ and his work in our behalf, but a declaration of how the benefits of Christ's work are appropriated by, in and for the believer ... Without the gospel the church falls. Without the gospel the church is no longer the church.'1

Dr William Childs Robinson in his very useful book entitled The Reformation: A Rediscovery of Grace has the following to say about Luther's view of justification and its centrality to Christian doctrine:

Luther describes justification as the heart of the Church, articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae, which 'keeps and rules all teachings of the Church and raises up our conscience in God's presence'. He warns that if the article of justification is lost the whole Christian doctrine is lost ... As early as 1516 he writes to Spenlein, 'You will never find true peace until you find it and keep it in this ... that Christ takes all your sins upon Himself, and bestows all His righteousness upon you.' To another his word is: 'Our Lord Jesus Christ alone is the garment of grace that is put upon us, that God our Father may not look upon us as sinners but receive us as righteous, holy, godly children and give us eternal life.' Again, 'In my heart one article alone reigns supreme, that of faith in Christ, by whom, through whom and in whom all my theological thinking flows back and forth day and night. And still I find that I have grasped this so high and broad and deep a wisdom in a weak and poor and fragmentary manner.'2

Warfield evaluates the Reformation thus: 'What happened at the Reformation, by means of which the forces of life were set at work through the seething, struggling mass, was the revival of vital Christianity.'3 'The Reformation was then – we insist upon it – precisely the substitution of one set of theological doctrines for another.'4

Indeed, the basis of Luther's religious experience was a doctrine, namely, 'that it is God and God alone who in His infinite grace saves us, that He does it all, and that we supply nothing but the sinners to be saved and the subsequent praises which our grateful hearts lift to Him, our sole and only Saviour'.5 Again he says, 'This is what we call the material principle of the Reformation. It was not at first known by the name of justification by faith alone, but it was from the first passionately embraced as renunciation of all human works and dependence on the grace of God alone for salvation. In it the Reformation lived and moved and had its being; in a high sense of the words, it is the Reformation.'6

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches this same view of faith and justification:

Q60. How are you right with God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God's commandments and of never having kept any of them, nevertheless, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.

Q61. Why do you say that by faith alone you are right with God?

A. It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me. Only Christ's satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God. And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism succinctly affirms the same question 33:

Justification is an act of God's grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

And like the Heidelberg Catechism, the Shorter Catechism defines saving faith in terms of trusting in Jesus alone for salvation.

Q86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?

A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

In his treatment of the Biblical doctrine of faith, Warfield indicates that the Biblical conception of faith in its subjective nature is defined in Heb. 11:1 as the 'assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen'. He says,

(Faith) obviously contains in it, therefore, an element of knowledge (Heb. 11:6), and it as obviously issues in conduct (Heb. 11:8, cf. v. 9, 1 Pet. 1:21). But it consists neither in assent nor in obedience, but in a reliant trust in the invisible Author of all good (Heb. 11:27), in which the mind is set upon the things that are above and not on the things that are upon the earth (Col. 3:2, cf. 2 Cor. 4:16-18, Mt 6:25).7

Warfield summarizes the biblical idea of saving faith as follows:

It is, accordingly, solely from its object that faith derives its value. This object is uniformly the God of grace ... This one object of saving faith never varies from the beginning to the end of the scriptural revelation ... The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself but in the Almighty Saviour on whom it rests ... It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ ... It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith; and in this the whole Biblical representation centers, so that we could not more radically misconceive it than by transferring to faith even the smallest fraction of that saving energy which is attributed in the Scriptures solely to Christ Himself.8

We see then that the Reformers held to the idea that justification was by faith alone, and further, that this faith was not viewed in any sense as meritorious, but by nature a resting upon Christ alone for salvation.

The Roman Catholic position was officially stated by the Council of Trent (1545-63) and was reaffirmed in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council which declared the doctrine of Trent to be irreformable.9 Michael Horton cites the language of Trent to show Rome's official position:

As the gavel came down to close the final session of the Council of Trent in 1563, Rome had officially and, according to her own commitment down to the present moment, irreversibly, declared that the Gospel announced by the prophets, revealed in and by Christ, and proclaimed by the apostles, was actually heretical. The most relevant Canons are the following: Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone... let him be anathema. Canon 11. If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins ... let him be anathema. Canon 12. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy (supra, chapter 9, which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema. Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice 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 the increase, let him be anathema. Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ...does not truly merit an increase of grace and eternal life ... let him be anathema.

It was, therefore, not the evangelicals who were condemned in 1564, but the evangel itself. The 'good news' which alone is 'the power of God unto salvation' was judged by Rome to be so erroneous that anyone who embraced it was to be regarded as condemned.10

This being the case, it is hard to understand how Protestant leaders, who otherwise appear to be clear in their thinking, would agree to the statements regarding justification found in the document entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). The document reads as follows regarding justification:

We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ. Living faith is active in love that is nothing less than the love of Christ, for we together say with Paul: 'I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2).

R. C. Sproul comments on this statement:

The word 'alone' was a solecism on which the entire Reformation doctrine of justification was erected. The absence of the word alone from ECT's joint affirmation is most distressing. Had the document insisted that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, it would have gone much further in securing peace and unity between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. The glaring absence of the word 'alone' makes the statement totally inadequate as a rallying point for historic Evangelicalism.11

When one considers the meaning of the term 'justification,' the question with which it deals is how the absolutely holy God, who requires absolute perfection in his creatures can receive sinners into his presence. For this to take place two things must occur. First, the penalty, which God's justice demands, must be met and paid in full. Second, there must be the positive keeping of the Law of God, so that God can reward those who are justified with everlasting life.

W. G. T. Shedd wrote of these two parts of justification:

Whoever justifies the ungodly must lay a ground both for his delivery from hell, and his entrance into heaven. In order to place a transgressor in a situation in which he is dikaios, or right in every respect before the law, it is necessary to fulfill the law for him, both as penalty and precept. Hence the justification of the sinner comprises not only pardon, but also a title to the reward of the righteous. The former is specially related to Christ's passive righteousness, the latter to his active. Christ's expiatory suffering delivers the believing sinner from the punishment which the law threatens, and Christ's perfect obedience establishes for him a right to the reward which the law promises.12

As we consider these two requirements, we see that the sinner cannot accomplish them. They occur outside of the man. The sinner who believes and trusts in Christ as his Saviour rests upon the accomplished work of Christ for his justification. Christ's death has met the demands of God's justice, and thus delivers him from hell. God, on the basis of that accomplished work of Christ, pardons the sinner of his sins. In addition, he accepts him now as righteous, on the ground of the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Brian Schwertley has described the nature of justification thus:

Justification is not something that occurs in man, nor is it a process. It refers to the legal, judicial and forensic declaration of God. It is to declare forensically that the demands of the law as a condition of life are fully satisfied with regard to a person, Acts 13:39; Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:30-33; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16; 3:11. The ground of justification is Christ's sacrificial death and perfect obedience to the law (i.e., 'the righteousness of God,' Rom. 3:21). When a man by faith lays hold of Jesus Christ and His merits, God imputes that person's guilt for sins past, present, and future upon Christ on the cross. God also imputes Christ's perfect righteousness to that sinner. The Father then declares that man righteous or just in the heavenly court. Because Christ has removed the guilt of that man's sins past, present, and future legally before God, it is as though that man never committed sin. He is white as snow (Isa. 1:18). His record is perfect. Judicially, he is just as righteous and perfect as Jesus Christ. Since Christ's perfect obedience is imputed to him, he has eternal life because Christ merited it for him.13

Rome holds the opposite. She teaches that justification is a lifetime process, and that it is grounded upon the obedience of the sinner. Due to the weakness of man, this process may not be completed until a protracted period has been spent in purgatory. She thus combines justification and sanctification together and rejects the Protestant teaching that justification is by faith alone. She accuses Protestantism of being antinomian in the insistence that justification is by faith alone. It should be observed, however, that the Protestant position has the proper place for obedience in its doctrine of sanctification.

The Westminster divines sought to give a corrective to the charge of the Romanists that Protestantism was antinomian in character. The second paragraph under the heading 'Of Justification' reads:

Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.14

The question that needs to be answered is what the Bible teaches regarding justification. How does the Bible view justification?

Old Testament15🔗

The Hebrew root for justify is tsadaq. The Old Testament usage of the Qal, Piel and Hiphil stems reveals some variety of meaning. There is first of all the stative idea. That is, the state of being righteous is described by this term. Second, there is a demonstrative usage, in which one is shown to be righteous. Third, there may be some rare cases of a causative usage, in which one is caused to be righteous. Fourth, by far the most frequent, and thus the most important usage is the forensic or declarative usage.

The importance of this preponderant usage in the forensic sense is seen when it is found that there are advocates of the causative idea of justification. Roman Catholic theology and moral influence theories of atonement (John Young of Edinburgh, Horace Bushnell, the Unitarians, et. al.) deny the legal or forensic idea and defend the causative sense as the proper understanding of justification. In answer to this, it should be observed that the Bible itself points to the forensic meaning in several ways.

First, justification is set in contrast to condemnation. 'If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, and the judges judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked' (Deut. 25:1). Since to condemn is not to make one guilty, but rather to declare one to have been found guilty, so to justify must here refer to the declaration of righteousness, not causing righteousness. A similar usage is seen in Proverbs 17:15, 'He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Jehovah.' Surely it would not be an abomination to the Lord if one were able to constitute the wicked as righteous by justification. On the other hand, if the declarative sense is taken, then this passage makes good sense. Again justification and condemnation are set opposite to each other.

Second, justification is found in the context of judgment, which again points to the forensic meaning, and not a causative meaning. 'And enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight no man living is righteous (justified).'

Third, there are equivalent expressions that display the meaning to be forensic and not causative, Gen. 15:6; Psa. 32:1-2.

Fourth, there are passages such as Isa. 53:11 where the word does imply more than 'declaring righteous.' 'He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities.' Here the idea of the term 'justify' reflects on the change of condition that the Servant has wrought. It implies not the making righteous or holy but that they shall be accepted as righteous because 'He shall bear their iniquities.' Daniel 12:3 uses the word to describe the work of those who 'turn many to righteousness'. Even here, though it is not a forensic sense of the term, it is hardly the sense of making others righteous.

From this brief survey of the Old Testament usage of the term justify, it seems clear that the word is primarily used in the judicial or forensic sense of declaring one as righteous, and not in the causative sense of making one righteous.

New Testament🔗

As we turn to the New Testament we find the word translated 'justify' is dikaioo. This word does not have the variety of usages that are found in the Old Testament with tsadaq. It carries only two shades of meaning. They are the demonstrative and the declarative senses of the term. The ideas are close, and in some cases may merge into one another. Examples of the demonstrative use of the term are Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:35, 'And wisdom is justified by her works.' That is, wisdom is demonstrated in her works to be wisdom. 1 Timothy 3:16, reads 'And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels…' Here there may be some merging of the two meanings, though it could be understood that our Lord demonstrated his righteousness in the spirit. In other instances the demonstration of righteousness has nothing to do with a judicial sense of the term. James 2:21 says, 'Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?' When we remember that James uses the word in the demonstrative sense, whereas Paul uses it in the declarative sense, we resolve the supposed difficulty between the two.

The declarative usage means that one declares, accounts or judges one to be righteous. Luke 7:29 reads, 'And all the people when they heard, and the publicans, justified God.' Here it is clear that the people do not constitute God to be righteous, or demonstrate him to be so, but rather that they declare him to be so. Again in Luke 18:14 we read, 'I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other...' Here the idea is that of accepted as righteous. As in the case of the Old Testament the declarative or forensic sense of the term is seen to be prevailing. It is used in connection with judgment, which excludes the idea of making righteous, but carries the idea of reckoning (Luke 7:29). As in the Old Testament, the term is contrasted in the New with condemnation. 'And not as through one that sinned, so is the gift, for the judgment came of one unto condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses unto justification' (Rom. 5:16). 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?' (Rom. 8:33-34). Again there are correlative expressions that favour the declarative sense, and not a causative sense. In Romans 4 Paul argues that sinners are reckoned as righteous. 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 speaks of our reconciliation, and declares that 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses.'

From this we can see that the New Testament also uses the word justify in the judicial sense, and not in the causative sense of the term. In reference to our relation to God, we are recognized in his sight as free from condemnation and as having had all the requirements of his justice satisfied. The ground upon which it is made does not affect a forensic act. Even if the ground is moral conduct or character of the person, justification is still a declarative act. We may speak of Adam in innocence or of Christ as being justified. As such we would be declaring the righteousness of each, and not in any sense causing the righteousness of either.

Soteric Justification🔗

When we speak of soteric justification, we are referring to God's justification of sinners. It is God's declaring, adjudging, or reckoning the sinner as righteous. In the case of God, as it should be in all cases, his justification is always in accord with the truth. If God adjudges a person to be righteous, then the being righteous is presupposed in the declaration. How can this be in the case of the ungodly? How can God declare those who are ungodly and under sentence of condemnation to be righteous? Condemnation and justification cannot coexist, particularly in the Divine judgment. God's declaration that a person is adjudged as righteous must therefore presuppose or include within it a constitutive act.

The sentence of a human judge is merely declarative; it does not constitute a man either innocent or guilty, it only pronounces him to be so in the eye of the law: it may even be erroneous, and may pronounce one to be innocent who is really guilty, and another to be guilty who is really innocent; whereas in justifying a sinner, God does what no human judge can do: He first constitutes him righteous, who was not righteous before, and then declares him to be righteous, in His infallible judgment, which is ever according to truth.

What is the constitutive act? It consists in the establishment of a new judicial relation to himself, so that a change takes place, which makes the declaration to be true.

As we examine the Scripture we see that it associates the imputation of righteousness to the sinner with justification. We see, therefore, that in soteric justification there is something that does not apply to human cases of justification. Not only does God declare the sinner justified, He also constitutes him just. The declaration presupposes the imputation of righteousness. It is important that we not conceive the constitutive act as consisting in regeneration. It is entirely in the forensic area that the constitutive act occurs. It consists in the act of imputation, which in turn effects the relation, which is declared to be and reckoned as existing.

The Ground of Justification🔗

The question with which we are dealing here is: What is the righteousness that is reckoned to the account of the ungodly, which becomes the ground of the judicial declaration? On what grounds does God declare that the demands of the law and justice are satisfied? 'What righteousness enables him to so declare?

1. It is not a righteousness that is generated or wrought in us🔗

An infused righteousness, which is generated within us by the grace of God, even though it may be perfect and it eliminates all sin so as to completely conform us to the image of Christ, would not meet the requirement of full justification. It falls short of the demands of full justification in not remedying past sin and unrighteousness. Justification includes the remission of sins. It involves the removal of all condemnation. Thus the righteousness imputed to the sinner must be a righteousness adequate to take care of the remission for past sins as well as the assurance for the future.

2. It is not a righteousness wrought by us🔗

The Scripture clearly asserts that no man is justified by the works of the law (Rom. 3:20; 4:2; Gal. 2:16; 3:11; 5:4; Rom. 10:3-4; Phil. 3:9; Titus 3:5). Our works nowhere justify in God's sight.

3. We are justified by the grace of God🔗

When we speak of the grace of God, we speak of the unmerited favour of God. That is, there was nothing in us to elicit any reward from God. The blessing of salvation proceeds from the unwarranted favour of God. The ground of our justification then lies entirely outside of ourselves, and our doings.

4. More specifically it is in Christ that we are justified🔗

The general teaching that it is in Christ that we are justified is found in such passages as Acts 13:39; Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Galatians 2:17. As we consider the Biblical presentation even further, we see that it is through the righteousness of God (Rom. 1:17; 3:21-22; 10:3; Phil. 3:9) that we are justified, and this righteousness is even more specifically identified as the obedience of Christ (Rom. 5:17-19) and his sacrificial and redemptive work (Rom. 3:24-25; 5:9; 6:7; 8:33-34). From all of this we conclude that the ground of justification lies not in us, but lies in the righteousness wrought in our behalf by Christ. It is this righteousness, which is imputed to the sinner, that is reckoned to our account. It is this imputation of Christ's work to the sinner that constitutes a new relation of the sinner to the Law of God, and becomes the basis for the declarative act of God in justification of the sinner.

The Instrument of Justification🔗

Up to this point in our study we have been presenting the objective aspects of justification, the acts of God. Now we must ask if the act of justification takes place irrespective of any activity on our part. Or, is it related to some activity of ours? What is the proper place in the ordo salutis of justification?

The Bible speaks of justification by faith. It never speaks of justification 'on account of faith' (dia ten pistin). Faith is not the ground of justification. The following forms of expression are used: dia pisteos, 'through faith'; ek pisteos, 'of faith'; epi to pistei, 'by faith.' From the Biblical presentation it is obvious that justification is related to our faith. Further, faith is not the consequence of justification, but the preceding instrument. There is some sort of instrumentality exercised by faith that is indispensable to the divine act of justification. While it is God who justifies the ungodly, it is only those who exercise faith in Christ who are justified. The question of the nature of the efficiency of faith must be raised.

Rome says that the faith that precedes baptism is bare assent. It is the occasional cause of first justification, and baptism is the instrumental cause of first justification. Then, after first justification occurs, there is an infusion of grace, an infusion of righteousness, and now faith becomes informed with love. By virtue of this fides informis the person is able to do good works that are meritorious. This merit becomes the ground for second justification. Thus Rome holds that baptism is the instrumental cause of first justification, whereas works are the ground of second justification.

The Remonstrant-Arminian scheme holds that faith joined with evangelical obedience is the ground of justification. That is, it is the ground of our acceptance with God. The general Protestant position is that faith is the instrument of justification. It is that by which we lay hold upon the offered grace of God.

As we remember that the ground of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, and the nature of the primary act of saving faith is to look away from self and to rest upon Christ alone for salvation, we see how these two fit together. It is as we rest completely upon Christ and his righteousness that we enter into the relation with Him of receiving the blessings of God's justification – this reckoning that righteousness to our account, and his declaring us as righteous in his sight. It is this trusting and resting faith alone that brings us into this relation with Christ.

The Relation of Justification by Faith to Good Works🔗

The question of the relation of justification by faith alone to good works is the question of the relation between justification and sanctification. It has often been suggested that justification by faith will encourage loose living. Paul met this argument in Romans 6-7. In order to answer this charge, it is necessary to have a proper understanding of justification and to keep it in proper focus.

  1. The ultimate goal of redemption is conformity of the sinner to the image of Christ. When this is remembered, then it is realized that justification is not the whole of salvation. It is only one of the steps of the whole process.
  2. Justification is the only basis for good works. Good works are those works, in accord with the teaching of the Scripture, which are done in holiness and righteousness. It is not possible to serve God as long as we are alienated from him by our sins, and thus under his wrath and curse. It is justification that removes this alienation. It is by justification that peace with God is established (Rom. 5:1). This peace is the necessary prerequisite of any good work. A sense of guilt and a sense of alienation are stultifying to service. Witness the life of King Saul after his rejection by God. Justification by grace brings the peace of heart that encourages godly living, not otherwise.
  3. The faith that justifies is nothing else than trusting in Christ for salvation from sin. This faith, therefore, is a sin-hating, a sin-condemning and a sin-renouncing principle. The motivating principle of this faith is a turning from sin to Christ for salvation. Thus it would contradict the very nature of this faith to suggest that its exercise is inimical to ethical living. How could such faith be an incentive to sin, when it is itself a turning from sin to Christ for salvation?
  4. True saving faith works itself out in love. This is the thrust of James. 'Faith without works is dead in itself. Yea, a man will say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith' (James 2:17-18). James is not renouncing faith for works. He is insisting, however, that true faith must demonstrate itself in works. Works are the fruit of faith. What a man believes determines what he will do.
  5. The question may be raised as to how we can be justified by faith, and yet it be said that we shall be rewarded on the basis of works. The principle here is that works done in faith are those which stem from the motive of love and obedience to the revealed will of God. They are directed to the glory of God. Such works are intrinsically good. These are the works upon which rewards shall be based. The Bible is explicit to the effect that such works will be rewarded in the life to come (Matt. 10:41; 1 Cor. 3:8-15; 4:5; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).
  6. The fact that we are to be rewarded on the basis of good works does not in any way take away from the fact that we are justified by the grace of God. The Bible does not represent our salvation as resting on these good works, but rather they bring rewards over and above salvation. The reward according to works has to do with the relative station which a person has to occupy in the eschatological kingdom of God.

The reward is graciously given by God, for he is the One who enables us to accomplish good works, and yet there is intrinsic good in works motivated by love to the glory of God, so that there is a meriting aspect of these works. The recognition of reward is a proper motivation unto good works. The believer should recognize that for his fuller enjoyment of God, he should live for God more and more in his life. Good works must be a part of the Christian's life, since bare salvation is not the goal of the redemptive process, but rather the glory of God. The believer should consciously seek that glory in his daily living.


Let us return to Warfield's observations regarding saving faith. It is not faith that saves, it is Jesus who saves through faith alone. This living faith never stands alone, but is always accompanied by good works. If one does not find any evidence of good works in his life, then he needs to ask whether he has ever exercised saving faith, that is, whether he is resting and trusting alone in Christ for his salvation.


  1. ^ R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone, The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), pp. 18-19.
  2. ^ The Reformation: A Rediscovery of Grace (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 80.
  3. ^ B. B. Warfield, 'The Theology of the Reformation' in Studies in Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), p. 462.
  4. ^ Ibid, p. 463.
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^ Ibid, p. 465.
  7. ^ B. B. Warfield, 'Biblical Doctrine of Faith' in Biblical Doctrines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1929, p. 501
  8. ^ Warfield, 'Faith', pp. 502-4.
  9. ^ Lumen Gentium, p. 25, in Walter M. Abbot, S. J., ed., The Documents of Vatican II (New York: American Press, 1966), as cited by John F. MacArthur, Jr., 'Long before Luther' in Justification by Faith ALONE, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), p. 8.
  10. ^ Michael S. Horton, 'Are We Justified By Faith Alone?' from What Still Divides Us: A Protestant & Roman Catholic Debate,  
  11. ^ Sproul, p. 36.
  12. ^ William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1889), 2:540.
  13. ^ Justification by Faith: An Examination of the Biblical Doctrine of Salvation, ed. Stephen Pribble, (Lansing, MI: 1998). This is an excellent essay, worthy of study.
  14. ^ WCF, XI:2.
  15. ^ Much of the remainder of this article has been adapted from the author's Systematic Theology (Greenville, SC: GPTS Press, 1994).

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.