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Bible verses about Justification by Faith
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Sometimes we become confused by the Bible's terminology. Justification and sanctification are not the same things. Justification is a legal state or condition which God, by His grace, declares us to be in as a result of our repentance and faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is righteousness (right standing with God), but it is imputed, accounted, or bestowed upon us; it is not based on any of our works. Justification clears the account of debt with God and frees us from the death penalty. It gives us peace with God and access to Him and the Holy Spirit. All these things come as a gift from Him through justification. With justification, Christ's righteousness is merely imputed to us, accounted where it legally ought not to be.

Under sanctification, Christ's righteousness actually, literally becomes ours through the process of obedience, overcoming, prayer, study, producing fruit, sacrificing ourselves, serving, and being led and enabled by God's Holy Spirit, as God purifies our heart and infuses within us His divine nature—producing His image and holiness. Sanctification it is a process. In sanctification is where works come into play, as Paul exhorts, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). Our part is activated and motivated by faith. This faith is not merely believing but trusting what His Word says enough to act on it or sacrifice because of it—yielding to God. Sanctification requires work—not to save us—but to ensure that God's creative process in us continues.

God cannot create holy, righteous character by fiat. It requires the willing cooperation of free moral agents who choose to do the right thing because it is right, because they love God and His way of life, and because they love each other. They are willing to sacrifice themselves, to work by faith, to pay the price.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 5): Ephesians 4 (B)


 

Genesis 12:1-3

God tells Abram to head toward a different land, which is linked with his people becoming a great nation. We usually interpret this as meaning a vast number of physical descendants, and God has certainly fulfilled that, considering the teeming populations of his offspring. However, the real meaning of being Abraham's children has to do with those who have the faith of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).

The Jews boasted that Abraham was their father, yet they were concerned only with physical lineage. Jesus told the priests and Pharisees that the kingdom would be taken from them and “given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43). That nation is defined, not by a physical bloodline, but by a certain faith and a different spirit. Peter calls those with the faith of Abraham “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (I Peter 2:9).

Genesis 12:3 says that in Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Paul explains this promise in Galatians 3:8: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'” From the Genesis 12:3 promise, Paul derives the idea that justification by faith would become available. In addition to foretelling a spiritual nation, God's promise of the land also suggests many being brought into alignment with God's standard of righteousness based on belief in Him.

David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)


 

John 6:28

Understanding the tenor of the times, we can understand this. They felt that all they had to do was to do some work that God commanded them to do, and salvation would be theirs. They did not understand about faith, justification, and grace. They were looking for a magic formula that would get them salvation. They were trying to get salvation—not give their lives to God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Reconciliation and the Day of Atonement


 

Acts 21:21

The speaker is James, our Savior's brother. "They" is the Jews, and "you" is the apostle Paul.

Verse 25 is a quotation taken from the conference in Acts 15, and the subject, according to verse 21, is the customs. The controversy did not involve the civil laws or the Ten Commandments. Instead, it involved the ceremonial additions, as is clearly shown in context by what Paul did.

The context shows what these customs were. Paul made the offerings required at the conclusion of a vow. It is clear that the passage is speaking about the ceremonies. It is also entirely possible that the controversy over these customs also involved the oral traditions of the Pharisees, which they were so devoted to.

There is no evidence that Paul ever taught any Jew to forsake Moses. To do so, he would have to preach against God. There is no evidence that Paul ever told them, "Do not circumcise your children." He certainly preached that keeping the law could not justify a person before God. His writings clearly state that we are justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8).

Plainly, Paul's own actions in Acts 21 testify that, though salvation or justification could not be won through keeping these things, keeping them was not destructive unless one depended upon them for justification or salvation. In addition, there was no hesitation on Paul's part to do them. Scripture gives no indication that he argued with James; in fact, we see a unity of mind between them. There is no indication of reluctance either, that somehow it would destroy Paul's faith in Jesus Christ, or that it would compromise him in the eyes of any Christian, Jew or Gentile, who might witness it.

This teaches that first-century Christians understood this issue. They clearly understood what we seem to have such a difficult time understanding nineteen centuries later. Nothing this God of love that we worship requires of us is bad for us. Sometimes what He requires may be difficult to bear, but it is not destructive to His purpose or thoughtless in any way. It is always intended to strengthen us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)


 

Romans 2:12-13

We cannot be justified before God except through faith in the sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and then God gives us grace. This does not excuse us from keeping the law because He says those who keep the law will be justified; therefore, keeping the law cannot justify. It cannot save a person, but those who keep the law will be justified and saved—not because they are keeping the law in order to be saved but because they are faithful in showing God that they are preparing their lives for His Kingdom, where everybody will live the same godly life, according to the same rules. That is what God's law outlines—His way of life.

This section, up to verse 16, shows that both those with a formal ignorance of God's law (say, the Gentiles) and those with knowledge of the law (in this case, the Jews, or in our context now, Christians) will be judged by the law. Why? Because the law defines sin! Sin brings God's judgment.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace and Law (Part 16)


 

Romans 2:13

Lawkeeping alone will not justify them, but God expects that someone who has faith in Christ to keep His law. Therefore it is good to do it because works are evidence of what one has faith in. Without works, God would never be sure.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 25)


 

Romans 3:19-23

This passage shows us the foundation of understanding justification by faith and thus where we stand in the relationship. Paul explains that, regardless of who one is and what he has done that might be considered as righteousness, God owes Him nothing but death because "all have sinned." Sinners are those under the law, and the law condemns them, making them subject to its power to take the sinner's life. Each person's own transgressions against the law and God place him in that position.

Sin is something each sinner is responsible for, and once the individual has sinned and earned the death penalty, the sin cannot be forgiven simply because he does good to make up for it. God did not make him sin. A clear example is Adam and Eve: God obviously did not make them sin; each of them chose to sin. Romans 3:20 clearly states that no sinner can justify himself through law-keeping. The law's purpose is to make known what sin is.

Once a person sins, everything is seemingly stacked against him. The sinner can in no way make up for what he has done. Therefore, since justification cannot be claimed as a right due to his keeping the law, if a person desires to be forgiven, the only alternative is that justification must be received as a gift.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace (Part Two)


 

Romans 3:20-21

Where does righteousness apart from the law appear in the Bible? In the law, back in the Old Testament! It is not new with the New Covenant.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 9)


 

Romans 3:20-31

We are justified through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He is the payment for our sins, thus freeing us from sin's penalty, and at the same time, God accounts—or imputes—Christ's righteousness to us. The righteousness that enabled Him to be the perfect sacrifice is accounted as if it is ours! This then makes it possible for us to have access into the presence of the holy God.

But this does not do away with law. It establishes it! It places the law in its rightful position in our understanding of what God is working out in our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 29)


 

Romans 3:21-22

Here Paul explains that God has provided a means whereby we may receive forgiveness of sins and be accounted righteous in His sight. It is separate and distinct from obedience to the law. This forgiveness comes by having faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ!

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Saved By Faith Alone?


 

Romans 3:21-26

God can forbear with us because Jesus Christ came to this earth and died for all of us. If we repent and ask God forgiveness, then Christ's blood covers all of our sins. Justice has been done. The sin has been paid for by the blood of Christ. God can thus forbear with us and allow us to "get away" with our sins for a while, because if we repent, then Jesus Christ's blood covers our sins, and justice is done. A person died for those sins—our Creator, Jesus Christ.

But if we do not repent, what happens? We die, and the penalty is paid. So this is a kind of legal maneuver by God. His forbearance is allowed under His legal system because Jesus Christ's blood pays the penalty for our sins. He can be merciful and lenient for a while, and whether we repent, or whether we do not repent, justice is ultimately served because a death occurs—either Jesus' or ours. This is the legal basis for why He can be forbearing. He has already taken care of it, one way or the other.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Forbearance


 

Romans 4:13-16

God justifies us. He does it freely. One of His purposes for doing so is that the promises may be sure.

The Jews have a saying, "How can a man enter into a right relationship with God so that he, too, may inherit the promises?" They understood the promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. They wanted to be able to participate in it, so they posed this question. Their answer: "He must do so by acquiring merit in the sight of God through doing good works, which the law prescribes." That is to say, by one's own effort.

However, as Paul describes here, justification through works, if it were even possible, would destroy the promises of God because no man can keep the law fully! If nobody can keep the law, because the giving of the promises depends on keeping the law, then God cannot give the promises. No one would ever qualify.

So God, wanting to ensure that the promises are given, justifies a person of His own free will. He blesses us, so that we can qualify to receive the promises on the basis of His grace. We had better be glad He does it this way, or we could never be co-inheritors of what Abraham is promised.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace


 

Romans 4:15

If we take to its logical conclusion the statement that "justification by grace through faith does away with law," then there is no such thing as sin any longer, for the law defines what sin is (see also I John 3:4). If that is true, Christ died in vain.

In addition, it violently flies in the face of two clear facts: 1) Two thousand years after Christ shed His blood to pay the penalty for sin—providing the means for justification—we still must repent of sin to be forgiven. That has not changed, so sin must still exist and law still exists. Thus, the Ten Commandments still exist, as sin is the transgression of that law. How can this be if there is no law to transgress? 2) The New Testament record of Jesus Christ's and the apostles' exhortations to Christians not to sin, especially after one is forgiven.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 4)


 

Romans 4:16

Paul states a major reason why justification absolutely must be by grace through faith: It is by means of grace that everybody receives a fair chance for salvation. Grace levels the playing field. What would happen to those who could not match the impressive body of works of an Abraham? They would fail to be justified. The truth is that even Abraham was not justified by his circumcision works. He, too, was justified through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and God's grace. It has been this way from the beginning; Genesis 6:8 testifies that Noah found grace in God's eyes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)


 

Romans 5:8-9

We are justified by faith in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ's life was worth more than all the rest of humanity combined, His death paid the penalty of the sins of the whole world. Through faith in His suffering and death, we receive forgiveness of sins and are brought into a right relationship with God.

The scripture states that "we shall be saved from wrath through Him." "Justified" does not mean "saved"; nor does it mean that we have eternal life. It simply means that our guilty past has been wiped clean because Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Once justified, we can proceed to the next step in the process of salvation.

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Basic Doctrines: Salvation


 

Romans 5:8-10

Verse 10 says, "We shall be saved," in the future tense. Thus, we now have access to the Father, to the Tree of Life, and to a relationship to build upon which should lead to everlasting life. But God has willed that our development must take place within the world, not the Garden of Eden.

Part of God's solution clears us of guilt of past sins; this is referred to in the Bible as "justification." Justification by faith in Christ's blood is only a partial solution because it neither changes the nature nor the character that is the cause of our needing justification through Christ's blood. It does clear us of indebtedness due to sin, and that in itself is a major blessing—an enormous gift—but by itself, it does not change the behavior that was responsible for us being indebted in the first place. It does open the door to that change, and thus verse 10 says, "We shall be saved by His life." This phrase implies help to enable us to be saved. Help is available to fulfill our part because Christ is alive to assist us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year


 

Romans 5:8-10

Two points are noteworthy about Paul's comments. In verse 10, Paul states, "We shall be saved by His life." As wonderful a gift as God's merciful forgiveness is, merely being forgiven through Christ's blood is not sufficient for salvation. Justification must be seen for what it truly is: It is essential, but it is only the beginning of the salvation process. Throughout the process, we are saved by the continuous flow of grace upon grace from our High Priest.

The other important point is that perhaps nothing regarding God's spiritual creation demonstrates God's gracious and generous freeness—His total lack of obligation toward us—as does His justifying of sinners rather than morally meritorious saints.

The Christian doctrine of God justifying by faith rather than by works truly set the religious Jews of the apostle's day on an angry edge. To them, it made no logical sense. They perceived it as simply another invitation to sin because it seems so easy, or perhaps they also saw it as God ignoring their sincere efforts to please Him.

This charge is true—if one perceives justification carnally, isolating it so that it appears to occur completely apart from God's entire purpose for salvation rather than seeing it for what it truly is. Justification by grace through faith is a necessary part of the whole of being created in Christ's image.

Why is it necessary that our justification be by grace through faith? It must be this way because, if we earn justification through our works, it opens the door for human pride, not just to enter our relationship with God, but perhaps even to drive the relationship. If one is justified by works, a person could then honestly claim that God chose him, and his works, because he was good.

This is not good because pride is such a strong influence against God. Remember, Satan's pride rising in him initiated this entire earthly mess. Consider carefully what his pride did to his relationship with God. Justification given because of works alters the positions within the relationship, making God obligated to us as if we had earned a relationship with Him. Pride attempts to put a person on an equal footing with God or even in charge of the relationship, and this ultimately results in us creating ourselves.

It is dangerous to unleash pride in thinking more of ourselves than what is truly good for our character development. We are not the creator but the creation, subject to the designs and purposes of the Master Creator. For our good, then, justification must be received as a freely given, unearned gift.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace (Part Two)


 

Galatians 1:6-7

The major thrust of the Galatian epistle is to put them "back on the track" because someone had been teaching "a different gospel," a perversion of the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). The Galatians had derailed on their understanding of how sinners are justified. To be justified means to have one's sins forgiven and to be brought into a right relationship with God. False teachers in Galatia taught that one was justified by doing physical works of some kind. In dealing with this matter, Paul felt an urgency to emphasize that we are justified by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:15-16)

Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Does Paul Condemn Observing God's Holy Days?


 

Galatians 2:15-21

Verse 15 declares that being born an Israelite indicates a privileged birth. The privilege results from being part of the Old Covenant nation, thus having direct contact with God's Word, which contains His promises and instructions. This provides the possibility of faith because faith comes from hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17).

However, even having that privilege is of itself no benefit regarding justification. Why? Because a person is justified only through faith in Jesus Christ. Through this means and this means only, a person is declared righteous or innocent of sin. Thus, if one does not take advantage of its availability, the availability itself is of no value. Faith in Jesus Christ and His message is what is important about this way of life.

Paul makes a definitive statement regarding obedience following justification by faith in verses 17-18. The thing that he destroyed through faith and repentance was his former way of life with its mountain of sin accumulated during his unconverted life before justification. Paul was determined not to return to that sinful way. To do this, he had to live to God (verse 19), that is, to obey God's laws so that he would not sin and therefore bring to naught his justification through Christ's sacrifice. He is clearly stating that keeping God's laws is required, even though keeping them does not earn salvation.

We need to make sure that we understand this important reality: Being justified is a major step toward salvation, but this does not mean that the person's character is now fully changed. It means only that the charges for sin against him are removed, and he is legally declared innocent on the basis of Christ's divine righteousness.

Justification is a judicial action by a judge—God. The term indicates an aligning of a forgiven person with a standard. In this case, the standard is the law of God. Justification does not happen automatically to all but solely to those whom God calls, forgives, and unites with Christ because they believe in the efficacy of His death as the divinely given Substitute to pay the death penalty for their sins. They have humbled themselves before Him and fervently desire to glorify God through a vastly changed life.

Character is a group of qualities that cannot be transferred by fiat. It is created throughout life, either by experiences in this world or by experiences within a relationship with God. We desire to be in the character image of God. In His purpose, the creating of godly character takes place during the sanctification process.

The New International Version renders Romans 10:17 as, "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Paul uses "faith," one's belief, in the sense of trust. At the point of justification in a person's spiritual life, faith is not producing works; it is merely the mental activity of believing. The works come later as the sanctification process begins and continues. This faith, this trust, has its foundation in knowledge that God has supplied by enabling the called person to reach the right conclusion, a conclusion based in fact. His trust is therefore not blind; it is based, not on speculation, but truth.

In Galatians 2:18, Paul shows that being justified by faith does not lead to a life of sin. Being justified by faith indicates a commitment in the mind of the justified to go forward, building on the relationship by being established with Christ. Verse 19 begins with the word "for," indicating the reason why the justified person will not return to the old way of life. By faith, Paul understands the reason: As far as the law is concerned, he is dead. His debt to it has been satisfied.

Verse 20 continues the thought. Like Christ died, the "old man," the carnal Paul, also died and was symbolically buried in the waters of baptism. Also like Christ, he has been raised from the dead—symbolically—from the waters of baptism. This is done for the sole reason that, by means of the very faith of Christ that he has been given, he would live life as Christ lived. The life Christ lived was sinless. He did not break God's laws, and that is the objective of the new creation and salvation.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace (Part Two)


 

Galatians 2:16

A much better translation that catches the essence of what Paul says is, ". . . a man is not justified through works of the law except through faith in Jesus Christ," or "but by means of faith in Jesus Christ." Paul is saying that works are of value when joined with faith in Jesus Christ, clearly showing that when works are combined with faith, they have positive value.

Since righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ, in reality it comes by the faith of Jesus Christ because it is His righteousness that is imputed to us for the purpose of justification. He achieved that righteousness by perfect lawkeeping through His faith in God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 26)


 

Galatians 2:17-21

Justification is clearly an act of God's grace, because what we deserve from what we have earned—from what we have done, the conduct of our lives—is death. There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1). Since justification, then, cannot be claimed as a right because we have sinned, it must be received as a gift. That fact that it is given makes it an act of grace.

It is not our hanging on to Christ (that is, the keeping of the law) that saves us, but rather Christ hanging on to us. That is, it is not what we do, but it is what He does continuously as acts of grace that saves us, because we deserve death. If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, Paul is saying in verse 21, "then Christ died in vain." If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, then Christ's sinless life and agonizing death were not necessary, because we can do it ourselves.

Justification is not vindication or exoneration. Both of those words connote that a person was right all along, but the true facts were hidden from those who were doing the judging. In some cases with men, vindication is possible because people are judged unrighteously. Their judges are not using righteous judgment.

But God never judges unrighteously! He knows all the facts. He knows our heart. He knows everything about us in every situation that we have ever been in, so He cannot vindicate us because we are not clear of guilt. He cannot exonerate us because we are not innocent. Justification is more than that. It is setting us right or calling us righteous though righteousness does not exist in us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace


 

Galatians 3:5-11

Paul approaches the faith and works question from yet another angle. This time, he uses Abraham as the model by which all his "children in the faith" also become "children of God." He begins by posing a question, which can be paraphrased as, "Do miracles come by ritual?" There is in this a veiled illusion to magic. Do miracles come by incantation? Do they come by knowing certain formulas that may include even such things as cutting the flesh or going through long periods of fasting or sufferings to get God's attention? Will God respond with a miracle out of pity once we show Him how humble and righteous we are? No, it does not work that way. Miracles come by a living God, who is actively working in our lives because He called us and we have faith in Him.

With that foundation, Paul begins what turns into the preamble for a very controversial section of Galatians. He proceeds to state that it was through faith that Abraham was justified. It is good to remember that Abraham not only believed who God is, but he also believed what God said. This is what set him apart from everybody else. His faith was not merely an intellectual agreement, but he also lived His faith.

Abraham's works did not win him acceptance by God, but they did prove to God that Abraham really did believe Him. So Paul says in verses 10-11 that those who rely on their works to justify them are under the curse of the law. What is "the curse of the law"? The death penalty! When one sins, he brings on himself the curse of the law he broke, which is death. In effect, he says that those who seek justifcation through works are still under the curse because justification by this means is impossible.

So powerful is the curse of the law that, when our sins were laid on the sinless Jesus Christ, the law claimed its due. Jesus died! Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 to counteract those who were troubling the church, because they were saying that their asceticism, magic, and similar things (like keeping Halakah, the oral law and traditions of Judaism) could justify.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 26)


 

Galatians 3:6

In God's mind, true faith or living faith is virtually synonymous with obedience and works. Faith and obedience are interchangeable, even though they are not specifically the same thing. This is just like the Bible's usage of mind, heart, and spirit—they are not specifically the same thing, yet they are so interconnected that they really cannot be separated.

This verse is a quotation of Genesis 15:6. There is a parallel quotation in Romans 4:1-3:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."

This verse in essence says that Abraham was justified because he believed. He was legally righteous before God because of his faith. This becomes the basis for Paul's teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. What Paul does not mention here is that Abraham's justification (Genesis 15:6) occurred 14 years before Abraham was circumcised. Paul's conclusion is that, based on Genesis 15:6, Abraham was justified by faith. The "work" of circumcision did not come for another 14 years! The circumcision did not justify him—the faith did. See the notes at Galatians 2:16.

Paul explains further in verses 21-25:

And being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Paul shows that we are also justified (cleared of guilt, have our sins wiped away) by belief in the blood of Jesus Christ. What God did for Abraham, He will also do for us. Paul's conclusion then is that justification is by faith.

But like Galatians 2:16, this seemingly sets up a paradox, because faith does not stand alone:

But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:20-24)

Paul also points out that there is more to the equation of justification than just faith in Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."

These last two scriptures show that living faith cannot be separated from obedience—from works. Faith and works go together; where there is living faith, there will always be good works. If no works are produced, there is no living faith. What we truly and deeply believe will determine the actions we take in our lives. If we truly believe something, our "works"—what we do in our lives—will always point to that. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7)—a man lives and acts according to what his core is.

As discussed previously (Galatians 2:16), these verses are in fact complementary, not contradictory. Each of these passages has a different context and purpose, and so we do not get the whole answer from any one of them individually. James' purpose is to show that there are two kinds of faith—living and dead, genuine and professing.

James says that a person's faith is perfected or completed by the kind of works that the faith produces. He shows that it is the kind of faith that Abraham had that made the real difference and brought about justification. Justification is entirely an act on God's part, but the kind of faith that brings about justification is the same kind that also brings about good works. It is not our works that save us, but only those who are "working" in the right way will be saved because their works will be indicative of what they truly believe in. Living faith, which James talks about, cannot be separated from works.

Paul backs this up in his second letter to the Corinthian church:

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim [work; labor], whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him [our acceptance by Him after being justified is dependent on what we do!]. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)

Paul lived by faith, but he worked (labored) so that he would be acceptable to God. If he did not work, he would not have been acceptable to God even though he professed God, said he believed in Christ, had faith that He could save, etc. His works were an indicator to God of what he had faith in—what he believed.

Paul's faith was the same faith that James was talking about—a living, active faith which produces good things—good works. Dead faith is inactive (toward the things of God). It does not produce anything profitable. It is the particular kind and quality of works that separates the Christian from the world, giving evidence of what a person believes.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:9

Those people—and only those—whose lives are centered on the same faith as Abraham will be justified in the same way that he was and receive the same spiritual blessings that he received and will receive. This faith will be the dominant character trait, and because it is one that will be manifested in the way they live their lives and do the works they do. We are created unto good works, and God ordained beforehand that we should walk in these good works as our chosen way of life (Ephesians 2:10).

When a person has this same faith that Abraham had, which was manifested by his works (James 2:20-26), he will also be justified by God in the same way—the only way man has ever been justified.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:10

Paul is quoting here from Deuteronomy 27:26, a principle echoed in Jeremiah 11:3.

"Of works," like "of faith" in verses 5 and 7, shows a person's origin—their source or basis of their spiritual life, and what they depend on. This follows the theme that we are justified and glorified (saved) by grace through faith, and not by our own righteousness. So Paul is saying here that those people who have their basis of spirituality in their own works and righteousness, rather than in their Creator, are under a curse.

In this verse, as with much of the rest of his letter to the Galatians, Paul is addressing the problem of justification by works—he is not condemning the law. It is evident from his other writings that Paul is not in any way anti-law (Romans 2:12-16,26; 3:31; 6:12; 7:12,22,25; 8:7; I Corinthians 7:19; I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 2:5; Titus 1:16; 2:11-14; Hebrews 1:8-9; 8:10; 10:26-29), but rather in this epistle he is endeavoring to show the place that law and works should hold in a Christian's life. He is against the misuse or abuse of law. God's law plays a vital part within the sanctification process, because it is during this time in a Christian's life that character is being built, that we are growing, overcoming, etc.—all of which require that a standard of conduct (law) be present.

James explains this further in James 2:10-12:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

This shows that our own righteousness could never suffice for the purpose of justification, because we all have sinned. But after we have been justified and entered into the New Covenant, the law is still very much valid for the purpose of sanctification. We are told in James 2:12, as in other places, that we will be judged, and the standard for that judgment will be the law of God.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:11

It is clear from the scriptures that at no time has a man been justified by his own works. Neither the Old Covenant nor the New Covenant provides a way for a man to be in alignment with God because of his own acts. It simply is not possible for a man's own righteousness to bring him into alignment with God and His law, character, etc., because every man has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The phrase "the just shall live by faith" is both a statement of fact as well as a command. Those who are justified will have eternal life—that is, they will "live"—because of their faith in God's redemptive plan. But it is also a command: If God has justified a man, it is then his responsibility to respond to that justification by living his life in faith. As James illustrates clearly, the way one lives his life is the only true indicator of what one has faith in. Again, we are neither justified nor saved by our own deeds or righteousness, but the things that we do and the rules that we live by are a beacon of what we believe in.

(See the notes at Galatians 2:16.)

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:12

If we were able to "do" the entire law—in the letter and the spirit—we could then "live" by that means. Paul shows that it does not require faith to keep the law in the letter—anybody can compare an action against a list of dos and don'ts and see if the action is allowed. It requires much more to keep the law in the spirit perfectly. It requires a full measure of God's Spirit working within the person. But simply to abide by a law does not require any faith in a Savior, so if this life were just about strictly adhering to a list of requirements in their letter, Christ would have died in vain.

Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God—that is, it will not submit itself to God's law. But there is ample evidence that unconverted man can live according to regulations in a Pharisaic manner. Romans 7:14 adds more to the equation by showing that God's law is a spiritual law—there is an intent behind it, as well as the most direct application. This was what Christ was endeavoring to show in Matthew 5:20-48. So for us to be justified before God, we would have to completely fulfill the law—live according to the letter and the spirit. But that is a logical impossibility without means of the Holy Spirit.

This is why justification by faith is a necessity: We need God's Spirit to fulfill this spiritual law, but God will not give His Spirit to someone who does not willingly submit to Him and obey Him. This is why God would not allow Adam and Eve access to the Tree of Life after they had sinned, because He knew that their natures had become corrupt, and He was not willing that a corrupt being be given His Spirit—His power. A paradox results, and the only way out of the deadlock is for God to bring a person into alignment with Him by substituting the perfect life of His Son for ours in a legal action. Once that justification has taken place, then a measure of His Spirit can be given, and the person can begin to keep His law in both the letter and the intent.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 3:22

The Old Testament has "included" or "enclosed" or "shut up" all of humanity under the umbrella of sin. Not a single person can appear before God on the basis of his own merit or righteousness. The totality of mankind is enslaved by sin and does not have the means to break free from its grasp. By "concluding" that everyone is under the bondage of sin, or under the curse of sin, the scripture shows that something external to mankind has to act to provide a solution that can save man from himself and his sinful nature. This "conclusion" also demonstrates that none of the paths that man has embarked on—primarily justification on the basis of one's own works—are of any lasting worth.

Because all other paths are shown to be futile, the only option for salvation and glorification is the way that Jesus Christ has set forth. There are no other alternatives. Faith in what Christ has done, is doing, and will do is mankind's only hope.

The story of the Israelites is a record of a people whom God chose, set apart, and blessed with incredible blessings and opportunities. But it is also a record of mankind's sinful nature, and how illogical it is that a man could stand before God on account of his own innate righteousness. God revealed just a portion of His will and character—the letter of the law—to Israel, and its history powerfully demonstrates that, by himself, man is unable to live up to God's standards.

This should be a glaring testimony that some other means is required for man to have a relationship with his Creator. The solution is justification—being brought into alignment with God and His law—on the basis of belief in the Savior and His perfect sacrifice. This marks the beginning of the relationship. But because faith without works is dead, the way a man lives his life demonstrates who and what he believes in. If he has been justified before God and is being saved, his life will reflect God's mercy, providence, and sovereignty. We are not justified or saved by our works, but if we are justified our works will demonstrate that we are being saved. "Belief" in Christ will be an everyday, continual reality, and true belief will shape every thought, word, and deed.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 4:4

God the Father determined when the time was right for His Son to come to earth, as man and God. Revelation 13:8 says that the Lamb (Christ) was slain "from the foundation of the world." This world, the cosmos, is the world apart from God, and that world was founded when Adam and Eve sinned. When sin entered into God's creation, given God's purpose for mankind to be made into His image, it was necessary that there be a method of reconciliation between man and God. This reconciliation was only possible through the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

Galatians 3:22 says that the scripture has concluded all under sin. The totality of mankind is enslaved by sin and does not have the means to break free from its grasp. By "concluding" that everyone is under the bondage of sin, or under the curse of sin, the scripture shows that something external to mankind has to act in order that there be a solution to save man from himself and his sinful nature. This "conclusion" also demonstrates that none of the paths which man has embarked on—primarily, justification on the basis of one's own works—are of any lasting worth.

So when the "appointed time" (Galatians 4:2) had come, the Father decided to begin releasing mankind, in part, from the grasp of those controlling him, and the means of doing this was through the redemptive work of His Son. Roughly 4,000 years had passed since Adam and Eve's sin, and during this time there was ample evidence that mankind did not have it within himself to come up with a lasting solution which would bring about peace, harmony, and true unity with God or man. Sin was rampant, and mankind was destined to continue in sin and to reap the consequences. After 4,000 years of human history, nothing had changed in man's fundamental nature. God determined that this was a long enough period of time and sent forth the pre-existing Word as a man.

Paul emphasizes Christ's humanity when he points to the fact that He was "made of a woman." This attribute is universal for everyone else on earth, so we typically do not use it as a descriptor. But this descriptor illustrates that Jesus Christ was fully human. It also shows that Christ fulfilled various prophecies by being born rather than by coming to earth in all of His glory (Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-9; Jeremiah 31:22; Micah 5:3).

Like all other men, Christ was "under law." This is not a reference to the Old Covenant; there is no definite article before "law" in the original Greek. He was not subject to the "Mosaic law," as some have assumed, but to the natural laws that God set in motion with the creation of man: He became hungry and thirsty when He went without food and water; He was wearied from physical exertion and lack of sleep; His physical body had limits in terms of the abuse it could take before it quit working; His body was subject to gravity, inertia, decay, and so forth. He was subject to every physical cause-and-effect situation that everyone else who has ever lived has been subject to.

Some modern translations render verse 4 as "born of a woman, born under [the] law." This is misleading, because Paul was not meaning to draw attention to the birth but of the supernatural conception. Paul uses the word ginomai for "made," and it means "to cause to be" or "to come into being." The emphasis is on the means or the action that something comes to be the way it is. The Greek word for "born" is gennao, which Paul did not use. Jesus Christ was "made of a woman" when He was miraculously conceived.

Christ was not "born under the law," in the sense that He was duty-bound to keep all of the ceremonies, washings, and sacrifices. However, He was "made under law." To be "under law" means to be subject to the condemnation of the law, which comes into action when one sins. Christ clearly never sinned, but nonetheless He was made [caused] to be "under law" when He was crucified and all of mankind's sins were laid upon Him, and He paid the death penalty which the law required.

Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made [ginomai] a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." This does not mean that the law is a curse, but that the law has a curse, and that curse is eternal death (Romans 6:23). Christ was caused to be "under law," under the condemnation of the law, when He accepted the death penalty for all of our sins.

David C. Grabbe


 

Galatians 5:2-3

Remember, the overall subject here is justification by faith. Circumcison is certainly permissible, as Acts 16 says that Paul circumcised Timothy, so he is not talking about the actual cutting away of the foreskin. Here, though, circumcision stands for keeping the ceremonial additions to the law for the purpose of receiving justification. Circumcision is a symbol that stands for the whole law. We know this because he writes, "He is a debtor to the whole law." It is obvious that the whole law is not physically binding upon us, as the ceremonies—the various washings, sacrifices, and offerings—do not have to be kept.

However, there is no shortcut to discerning which laws are binding and which are not. We would like things to be tied up in neat little boxes, but God has not chosen to do it that way. We must study—comparing scripture with scripture—especially the words and examples of Christ and His apostles. We must also meditate, seeking God's will.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 18)


 

Ephesians 2:8-10

Is there any contradiction between the opinions of Paul and James on this matter?

Simply, no! Paul, in Ephesians 2:8 says that faith is required and, as we have seen, in verse 10, says that good works are also required. James, in the second chapter of his epistle, says that faith and works are inseparable:

· Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (verse 17)

· But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (verse 20)

· For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (verse 26)

In his Bible Handbook, Henry H. Halley states that:

Paul's doctrine of Justification by Faith, and James' doctrine of Justification by Works, are supplementary, not contradictory. Neither was opposing the teaching of the other—they were devoted friends and co-workers. James fully endorsed Paul's work (Acts 15:13-29; 21:17-26).

Paul preached Faith as the basis of justification before God, but insisted that it must issue in the right kind of Life. James was writing to those who had accepted the doctrine of Justification by Faith but were not Living Right, telling them that such Faith was No Faith at all. (p. 659, capitalization as in original)

The Revised Standard Version translates James 2:20 in a very interesting and appropriate way: "Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?" It is barren that is so intriguing. In the Bible, several women—for example, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth—could not have children. In the physical realm, a fertile male and a fertile female are both required conditions for reproduction for most forms of life. Spiritually, active faith and active works are both required conditions to reproduce godly, spiritual life in us. In both cases, life, whether spiritual or physical, is a gift of God, the Creator and Life-giver. If either condition is absent or inactive, barrenness or lack of new life results.

Another meaning of barren common in English is that of a land without vegetation, a desolate place. The Greek word James uses is argos (instead of nekra, "dead," as in verses 17 and 26), meaning "lazy," "unproductive," "unprofitable," "idle," "ineffective." Its literal meaning is "no work" [a (negative) + ergon (work)]! The word picture that develops is of an area of land that receives plenty of sunshine but too little rain, and hence, it is barren, desolate. Such a land cannot be worked because it will not produce anything profitable. In the same way, a person having only faith will produce nothing profitable; he needs a steady "rain" of work to grow and mature.

So there is no contradiction. Faith is required. Works are required. Works toward God are to do His will and His work and, yes, to obey His laws. Works toward our neighbors are to serve them and to do good for them. Doing them promotes growth of godly character and provides a shining example of true Christian living.

Faith without works is dead. Faith with works is life—eternal life!

Staff
Faith Without Works


 

Ephesians 2:8-10

Notice first how this chapter begins: He has made us alive (Ephesians 2:1). Paul makes sure that we understand that it is God who gives what we spiritually possess. As for verse 8, it does not matter whether we believe that the pronoun "it" refers to grace or faith; both are gifts of God.

Grace is God's kindness to us, shown or demonstrated by His revealing Himself to us. It might help to think of this in reference to God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush before He sent him to Egypt. If God did not freely purpose on the strength of His own sovereign will to reveal Himself, neither Moses nor we would ever find Him. If a person cannot find God on his own, how could he possibly have faith in Him? Satan has deceived us so well that men have only the foggiest idea of what to look for.

Faith—with God as its object—begins and continues as part of His gift of kindness. The gift includes His calling, the granting of repentance, the sacrifice of Christ for our forgiveness, and His giving of His Spirit. It is a complete package of many individual gifts. The gospel is the medium that provides knowledge of the objects of the faith He gives, that is, what we believe and trust in. Paul, perceiving these gifts as a package, uses "grace" as its label. In verses 9-10, he advances to the logical "next step" in God's purpose.

Our works in no way jump-start the process of justification, sanctification, and glorification. All our works, beginning with repentance and continuing through our period of sanctification, depend directly on the freely given kindness and faith God provides. Our God-ordained good works are the result of our response to the gift of faith that God gives. Works, then, are the external evidence of the unseen, internal faith that motivates them. A person could not do them unless God had given the gift of faith beforehand. Good works follow, they do not precede.

II Corinthians 5:17-18 confirms this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This corroborates that it is God working in the person. His work is termed a "new creation." Since nothing new creates itself, we are the workmanship of another. We are God's workmanship. In sum, because of what God does, we cooperate and produce works that He ordains.

The apostle Paul adds to our understanding in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." He is not saying that we should work in order to obtain salvation. These verses indicate the continuing use of something one already possesses. They suggest carrying something to its logical conclusion, which is for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, doing the works God ordained, as in Ephesians 2:10.

In Romans 9:9-19, Paul, using Jacob and Esau's pre-birth circumstances as a foundation, provides a clear illustration to show that from beginning to end, the whole salvation process depends upon God's involvement. Jacob, representing those called into the church, received God's love in the form of gifts designed to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. From Esau, representing the uncalled, God has simply withheld His love for the time being.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)


 

2 Timothy 2:15-18

In this era of the church, the one that we are living in, we have our own problems with certain doctrinal matters. The first century also had problems with certain doctrines that they had to deal with. The very first bridge that they had to cross had to do with justification—justification by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.

This was a new concept, which is why God commissioned the apostle Paul to write so much about justification by faith—not by works, not by earning justification, but by faith in what God said and what Jesus Christ did. This doctrinal instruction takes up much of the books of Romans and Galatians.

The second bridge they had to cross was law and grace. Even today, people like to separate the two, as if a Christian cannot believe in law and grace at the same time. The apostles had to convince the people that law and grace are not opposed to one another, but work in harmony to complete the process of justification and then sanctification. God not only forgives us, but He also gives us gifts by His Spirit by which we can be sanctified unto holiness, the middle part of the process of salvation, which absolutely cannot be left out.

The third thing is the second coming of Christ. As time passed, the pressure mounted and the return of Jesus Christ became increasingly important in the minds of people. It naturally led people to believe that they had plenty of time to overcome, and it seemed to work to cast them adrift. This is why Paul says that the Hebrews were neglecting their salvation.

In Matthew 24:42, we find that Jesus anticipated this. He really understood human nature. Incidentally, do you want to know what it is that causes people to go to sleep spiritually, so that you can be aware? It is not a hard principle at all to understand. It is having to face so many difficulties, so many pressures, that one becomes weary with facing them. This is a simplification, but it is true. When people have to face so many stresses, they become apathetic and say, "What's the use?" We need to stir ourselves up and recognize that this can happen to us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic


 

Hebrews 10:26-27

To whom is this written? To Christians, to people who have received the grace of God and are justified. And Paul is warning them: "Don't sin!"

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 4)


 

 




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