How will we be justified before God?

Summary

In simplest terms, justification is the act of God saying that you are worthy to go to heaven instead of hell (Titus 3:7) when He judges all people at the end of this age (Revelation 20:12). This is accomplished by God’s grace through our faith proven by good works (Ephesians 2:8-10; James 2:22). Confidence in our works is found in practicing Jesus’ righteousness, not being perfect (I John 3:7). This is likely the largest divide in the church. God knew our hearts when He wrote Romans 3:28 vs. James 2:24 or Ephesians 2:9 vs. James 2:22, knowing it would cause a rift in the church. He did this to show us the depths of both aspects of this truth and to show us how badly we need Him over human leaders. Neither side is claiming that good works precede faith, but that from faith, we must do good works.

Endorsements

Many think the Catholic Council of Trent condemned Martin Luther and his Protestant Reformation, but the Vatican says in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, “The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this Declaration does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent…When Catholics affirm the “meritorious” character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace. Luther wrote in his Augsburg Confession, “…our adversaries…do not preach these unprofitable works as heretofore. Besides, they begin to mention faith, of which there was heretofore marvelous silence.

Reasons

Protestants prioritize justification from grace through faith.

Justification is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) because a works-based salvation defeats the purpose of having faith in Jesus (Romans 3:20,28). All other religions says we can earn our way into heaven by being good, but this leads to prideful boasting (Romans 3:27; Ephesians 2:9). Only Christianity says that salvation is God coming down to rescue weak sinners (Romans 5:6) just because He loves us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is an act in addition to a process because all we need to do is call to Jesus in respect to be saved (Romans 10:13). This is comforting because we don’t have to be “good enough” anymore to be on right terms with God, who wouldn’t accept any amount of good works as payment anyways (Matthew 5:20,48). Have peace that God has justified you (Romans 5:1) because of your righteous prayers (I John 5:13-14,15).

Catholics prioritize that faith is dead without works. 

Justification is from faith proven by doing what the law says (Romans 2:13) because faith without works is dead (James 2:17) and dead faith cannot save (James 2:14). If you focus only on hearing the Gospel (James 1:22), you will forget about your faith (James 1:25) because you are more focused on yourself (James 1:23) and start to forget what we are even created for (James 1:24): good works (Ephesians 2:10). By doing good works by faith, we slowly start to convert our mindset from a “righteous because I fear for my life” mentality (Romans 10:5) to a “righteous because I love God” mentality (Romans 10:6). Salvation is a process in addition to an act because everyone will have fear until their obedience proves their faith (Philippians 2:12) by transforming their heart (Romans 10:10). Just like how earthly judges convict based on evidence, so Jesus will justify with mercy only if you give evidence of real faith (James 2:13-14; Matthew 12:36-37).

Our justification is assured if we desire to follow Jesus.

Many ignore the verses that require good works (Romans 2:13) because it seems to imply that we can never know if we are saved. Although assurance of salvation can only happen through faith (Romans 3:22), “real faith” equals a desire to be righteous (I John 3:7) and stop sinning (Hebrews 10:26-27). Read more…

Counterclaims

Are we justified in the past or future?

We agree with John Piper’s opinion that it’s both. Protestants tend to focus on the finished work of redemption (Colossians 1:13-14), and Catholics tend to focus on the future work of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). Christians “have been justified” (Romans 5:1,9) because our genuine prayers to the Spirit guarantee our place in heaven (Jude 24; I John 5:15). Christians have yet to actually be justified because Jesus said “you will be justified” on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 12:36-37) when you prove your faith with your good works (James 2:21-22). This paradox is similar to a trust fund. God is the “grantor” who has already given us, the “beneficiary,” eternal life; but we also, as the “trustee” must manage this gift of grace effectively to actually receive it, during glorification (Philippians 3:21).

It’s a works-based gospel to say that we must do good works.

The New Covenant says we must be zealous for good works (Titus 2:14; Titus 3:8). A works-based gospel says that we must earn our way to salvation (Romans 3:27-28), but the Gospel of grace says that after salvation you will devote your life to good works (Titus 3:7-8). The common Protestant and many others who overemphasize the grace of Ephesians 2:8-9 fall into a freedom trap, thinking they don’t need to “serve one another” in good works (Galatians 5:13). Those who think faith is only about studying and preaching the Gospel have dead faith (Hebrews 6:1-2), because the very next verse they use tells us that we are created primarily to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), works of physically helping the poor and not through words (I John 3:17-18), unlike the hypocritical and judgmental preaching of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:3,24-25).

Salvation is by “faith alone.”

Logically this contradicts the Bible’s “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). If you mean that salvation is only possible by “grace alone” and that grace is evidenced only by “faith alone”, this is right (Ephesians 2:8). If you mean that faith does not lead to the evidence of good works, you are wrong (James 2:21). This is because “faith is completed by works” (James 2:22), completed in the same way a court cases is completed or finished at the showing of evidence (Proverbs 12:17). Whether sola fide means that good works are the evidence of faith or good works is essential for real faith, both sides must realize the logic is exactly the same. No one is claiming that good works precede faith and both believe good works is a result of real faith.

Is justification from belief or repentance?

We believe both sides are saying the same thing, and should realize the mutual understanding of relying on God’s power over one’s own (Philippian 4:13). Free grace, cheap grace, and easy-believism, taught by Arminianists and Baptists, focus on that faith in Jesus is all that is needed for salvation (John 6:47) and not an iota of good works is necessary (Romans 3:28). This gift of grace is free (Ephesians 2:8), and you don’t need to work on your own power to maintain it (Romans 3:20). While you must repent of the sins you know of, you don’t need to repent of every sin, for that is a process. Lordship salvation, taught by Reformed Calvinists and Catholics, focuses on the teachings that if the faith was real (James 2:14), it would lead to the sacrifice (Luke 9:23) of fuller repentance (I John 1:8-9) and good works (James 2:17). You cannot “believe in Jesus” without repentance, and you cannot repent unless you believe in Jesus (Mark 1:15).

If we accept God’s grace, our future sins are forgiven, so, we are already justified.

We agree on 2 of the 3 major points of the theology of hyper-grace. We agree that, because God lives outside of time, He already forgave the sins of those who would accept God’s grace (I John 5:13,15). We also agree that it is impossible to choose sin if we accepted God’s grace (Romans 6:14), for that sin is not done by that person’s spirit’s desire, but by the sin nature dwelling within him (Romans 7:20). Even so, this sin must be repented of and confessed because it is still “owned” by you (I John 1:8). The saved children of the New Covenant are commanded to repent (I John 1:9-2:1).