Is Justification According to Law or Grace?

by Mike Ratliff

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)

Since the inception of this ministry I have been approached by many concerned people who are convinced that they have sinned one too many times and have forfeited their salvation. They were being continually antagonized about their sin by a voice within. In every case, after some careful questioning, I learned that each of them have been part of a church or denomination whose doctrine of justification is a blend of grace and law, faith and works. Also, as I attempted to explain that justification is by faith alone according to the grace of God, each of them responded in disbelief and that usually ended the conversation. When I tried to share with them that the unregenerate are not troubled by their sin this way it fell on deaf ears.

In my study of the “emergent” or “emerging” church I have found that the trend in their teachings is to present the primary mission of our Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation as showing people the best way to live. The focus of these lives would then be concentrated on making an impact in making the world a better place to live for all people. They minimize or totally neglect any emphasis on Justification in the sense that its purpose is to redeem a people from this lost and dying world, to justify, sanctify, adopt, and glorify them so that they will be holy and blameless before Him in eternity. Of course, to do this they cannot use the Bible as a means of theology or a measuring rod of truth and standards by which to live. Instead of the Christian using the Bible as what molds his or her life, the “emergents” stress that the Christian’s life should mold what the Bible “says.” This is using the professing believer’s experience to determine what the Bible actually means. This is a form of dialectic teaching in which everyone in a local body of believers has a say in reaching a consensus of what the Bible might be saying. Of course, this only works in a paradigm in which truth is seen as nebulous. There can be no absolutes in this model.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:15-21 ESV)

When Justification by Faith alone is corrupted by the inclusion of works as a necessary component or it is seen as what God grants to all just so some can be Jesus followers doing good as they develop their theology through their pluralistic experiences, then we have an environment in which the visible Church is spiritually dark and confused. God is sovereign my brethren. The Bible, the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, is God’s revealed truth to the Christian. God’s truth is absolute and from His Word we learn biblical doctrines. These doctrines teach the Church that only God is Holy and perfect and fallen Man is dead in trespasses and sins. The unregenerate are spiritually dead. However, God is merciful and by His Grace He has provided the only way for those whom He chose before the foundation of the World to be reconciled to Him. He is Holy and must judge all sin, therefore, for unrighteous people to be Justified before Him and He remain Just, He provided a perfect Lamb to be the substitutionary sacrifice that satisfied His justice. This was our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, dying on the Cross to pay the penalty for the sins of everyone who will ever repent and believe the Gospel. You may say that repentance and belief are works, but Ephesians 2:1-10 teaches us clearly that God gives each believer whom He regenerates the gift of faith. This faith believes, repents, and is with the believer the rest of his or her life.

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith– just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:2-7 ESV)

All Christians are regenerate. They are alive spiritually yet the “flesh” remains. This is that “old man” remnant that thrives on sin and operates from a basis of pride. The quest for the Christian is to do battle by faith with their “old man” to put to death its deeds in order to live by faith. Christians must never forget that their justification is by faith alone (Hebrews 10:38) not by keeping the law. Any attempt to put Christians under the bondage of keeping the law with the threat of losing ones salvation if they sin is a violation of the clear teaching in scripture. Christians received the Spirit by hearing the Gospel with faith not by doing works of the Law. Any attempt to say that the primary purpose of this salvation is to “work to make the world a better place” has added another form of works theology to the Gospel. God declares Christians righteous because of their faith, not because of their works.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10-14 ESV)

Let us be clear my brethren. To be justified before God is to be made righteous before Him. What was the purpose of Christ going to the Cross? It was to redeem His people from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. It was not a horrible mistake or a failure in His ministry that caused this. No, it was planned from the beginning. He died on that Cross that all Christians might receive the promised Spirit through faith and be justified before our Holy and Righteous God. If the Law is not what justifies, nor did it ever have that purpose, then what was its purpose?

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:19-29 ESV)

The Law reveals man’s utter sinfulness, inability to save himself, and desperate need of a Saviour. It was never intended to be the way of salvation (Romans 7:1-13). Therefore, when we encounter Christians attempting to force Law-keeping on other Christians as means of justification then we must tell the truth, rebuke, and exhort all from God’s Word in order that His light be shown into this darkness that believers be edified and those in error might repent.

When we encounter the “emergents” who teach that living the way Jesus did is far more important than believing the Gospel and that wonderful doctrines such as Justification by faith alone, and Penal Substitution are parts of Christianity that are from the past and no longer relevant, then what do we do? We show that this is just a repackaging of a very old deception, Gnosticism,  that is attempting to replace the Church in the end-times. We tell the truth from God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray for them that God would break through the darkness that has enveloped their hearts. We pray that God would draw them to the Son for salvation. We stand firm. We warn the brethren. We rest in our Lord Jesus Christ and do not attempt to fight these battles in our own strength or understanding.

Sola Scriptura     In scripture alone we find

Sola Gratia          Salvation is by grace alone

Sola Fide             Through faith alone

Solus Christus    In Christ alone


Soli Deo Gloria!  For the glory of God alone!

6 thoughts on “Is Justification According to Law or Grace?

  1. Mike, this message is very timely and clear. Thank you for explaining what we are seeing today. Satan loves to repackage his lies that worked in the past. Clearly, this is happening today in the church. And I, for one, am thankful that the Lord has given us teachers who can reveal the apostasty boldly through the Word of God alone! It is the Sword of Spirit!


  2. Good thoughts, Mike. Just a point of clarification. When you say: “When I tried to share with them that the unregenerate are not troubled by their sin this way…” should I take it that in saying “this way” you are offering a qualifier for these specific individuals and that they are regenerate? My take on this justification question (and I think you’d agree) is that there are those who are “troubled by their sin,” but whose remedy is works (think Martin Luther and his quote on “monkery”). I don’t consider them biblically regenerate (inasmuch as it’s possible to know) – do we agree?


  3. Yes, Steve I do agree. I was attempting to say it is that only regenerate believers get it that their sin is evil and is what separates them from God. That is why the atonement is so precious to us.


  4. Hi Mike,
    I think that this is an issue we all struggle with. The following testimony may sound simplistic but God was very gracious to me. Early on in my walk of faith I was struggling to come out of pornography and I felt utterly condemned within. I felt as though I had lost my salvation.
    In a moment of time I believed I heard the Lord or an angel, I do no know, say to me “you have not been saved according to your works, therefore neither shall you be condemned according to your works”
    Though I still remain troubled by this word, it was a tremendous encouragement to have that weight of condemnation lifted from my life. Knowing this grace enabled me to continue on. Today I am free of that sin and I thank the Lord for His grace.
    Thanks for the post…..


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