Is Our Justification According to Works of the Law or by the Grace of God?

by Mike Ratliff

6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NASB)

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.

15 Ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί· 16 εἰδότες [δὲ] ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ. 17 εἰ δὲ ζητοῦντες δικαιωθῆναι ἐν Χριστῷ εὑρέθημεν καὶ αὐτοὶ ἁμαρτωλοί, ἆρα Χριστὸς ἁμαρτίας διάκονος; μὴ γένοιτο. 18 εἰ γὰρ ἃ κατέλυσα ταῦτα πάλιν οἰκοδομῶ, παραβάτην ἐμαυτὸν συνιστάνω. 19 ἐγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον, ἵνα θεῷ ζήσω. Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι· 20 ζῶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγώ, ζῇ δὲ ἐν ἐμοὶ Χριστός· ὃ δὲ νῦν ζῶ ἐν σαρκί, ἐν πίστει ζῶ τῇ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀγαπήσαντός με καὶ παραδόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ. 21 Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν. (Galatians 2:15-21 NA28)

15 We are by nature Jews and not sinners  from among the gentiles; 16 nevertheless, knowing that a man is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law; since by works of the Law no flesh will be justified. 17 Now while seeking to be justified in Christ, we were found also to be sinners ourselves, then is Christ a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 For if I rebuild what I destroyed, I demonstrate myself to be a transgressor.  19 For through the Law I died to the Law that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ;  20 and it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me, and that which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself up on behalf of me.  21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law then Christ died for nothing.  (Galatians 2:15-21 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

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.

2 τοῦτο μόνον θέλω μαθεῖν ἀφ’ ὑμῶν· ἐξ ἔργων νόμου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐλάβετε ἢ ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως; 3 οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε, ἐναρξάμενοι πνεύματι νῦν σαρκὶ ἐπιτελεῖσθε; 4 τοσαῦτα ἐπάθετε εἰκῇ; εἴ γε καὶ εἰκῇ. 5 ὁ οὖν ἐπιχορηγῶν ὑμῖν τὸ πνεῦμα καὶ ἐνεργῶν δυνάμεις ἐν ὑμῖν, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἢ ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως; 6 Καθὼς Ἀβραὰμ ἐπίστευσεν τῷ θεῷ, καὶ ἐλογίσθη αὐτῷ εἰς δικαιοσύνην· 7 γινώσκετε ἄρα ὅτι οἱ ἐκ πίστεως, οὗτοι υἱοί εἰσιν Ἀβραάμ. (Galatians 3:2-7 NA28)

2 This only I want to learn from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so senseless? Having begun in the Spirit are you now being perfected in the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if really indeed in vain? 5 The one, therefore supplying to you the Spirit and producing works of power among you, is it by works of the Law or by the hearing with faith? 6 As Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,   7 know then that the ones of faith, these are sons of Abraham. (Galatians 3:2-7 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

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.

10 Ὅσοι γὰρ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου εἰσίν, ὑπὸ κατάραν εἰσίν· γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι ἐπικατάρατος πᾶς ὃς οὐκ ἐμμένει πᾶσιν τοῖς γεγραμμένοις ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τοῦ νόμου τοῦ ποιῆσαι αὐτά. 11 ὅτι δὲ ἐν νόμῳ οὐδεὶς δικαιοῦται παρὰ τῷ θεῷ δῆλον, ὅτι ὁ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται· 12 ὁ δὲ νόμος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ πίστεως, ἀλλ’ ὁ ποιήσας αὐτὰ ζήσεται ἐν αὐτοῖς. 13 Χριστὸς ἡμᾶς ἐξηγόρασεν ἐκ τῆς κατάρας τοῦ νόμου γενόμενος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν κατάρα, ὅτι γέγραπται· ἐπικατάρατος πᾶς ὁ κρεμάμενος ἐπὶ ξύλου, 14 ἵνα εἰς τὰ ἔθνη ἡ εὐλογία τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ γένηται ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, ἵνα τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν τοῦ πνεύματος λάβωμεν διὰ τῆς πίστεως. (Galatians 3:10-14 NA28)

10 For as many as are under works of the Law are under a curse; for it has been written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 11 Now that by Law no one is being justified before God is clear because, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12 But the Law is not of faith; but “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law having become a curse on our behalf–for it has been written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”– 14 that to the nations, the blessing of Abraham might come by Christ Jesus so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.  (Galatians 3:10-14 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

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?

19 Τί οὖν ὁ νόμος; τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν προσετέθη, ἄχρις οὗ ἔλθῃ τὸ σπέρμα ᾧ ἐπήγγελται, διαταγεὶς δι’ ἀγγέλων ἐν χειρὶ μεσίτου. 20 ὁ δὲ μεσίτης ἑνὸς οὐκ ἔστιν, ὁ δὲ θεὸς εἷς ἐστιν. 21 ὁ οὖν νόμος κατὰ τῶν ἐπαγγελιῶν [τοῦ θεοῦ]; μὴ γένοιτο. εἰ γὰρ ἐδόθη νόμος ὁ δυνάμενος ζῳοποιῆσαι, ὄντως ἐκ νόμου ἂν ἦν ἡ δικαιοσύνη· 22 ἀλλὰ συνέκλεισεν ἡ γραφὴ τὰ πάντα ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν, ἵνα ἡ ἐπαγγελία ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ δοθῇ τοῖς πιστεύουσιν. 23 Πρὸ τοῦ δὲ ἐλθεῖν τὴν πίστιν ὑπὸ νόμον ἐφρουρούμεθα συγκλειόμενοι εἰς τὴν μέλλουσαν πίστιν ἀποκαλυφθῆναι, 24 ὥστε ὁ νόμος παιδαγωγὸς ἡμῶν γέγονεν εἰς Χριστόν, ἵνα ἐκ πίστεως δικαιωθῶμεν· 25 ἐλθούσης δὲ τῆς πίστεως οὐκέτι ὑπὸ παιδαγωγόν ἐσμεν. 26 Πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστε διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ· 27 ὅσοι γὰρ εἰς Χριστὸν ἐβαπτίσθητε, Χριστὸν ἐνεδύσασθε. 28 οὐκ ἔνι Ἰουδαῖος οὐδὲ Ἕλλην, οὐκ ἔνι δοῦλος οὐδὲ ἐλεύθερος, οὐκ ἔνι ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ· πάντες γὰρ ὑμεῖς εἷς ἐστε ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. 29 εἰ δὲ ὑμεῖς Χριστοῦ, ἄρα τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ σπέρμα ἐστέ, κατ’ ἐπαγγελίαν κληρονόμοι. (Galatians 3:19-29 NA28)

19 Why then the Law? It was added for the sake of the transgressors, having been ordained through angels by the hand of a mediator until the seed should come to whom it has been promised .  20 Now the mediator is not for just one, but God is only one.  21 Is the Law, therefore, against the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law was given being able to give life,  righteousness would have been indeed by law.  22 But the Scripture consigned all things under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to the ones believing.  23 But before the faith came, we were being kept under the law, being confined as to the faith being about to be revealed. 24 Therefore, the Law has been our guardian to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  25 But we are no longer under a guardian, faith having come.  26 For all of you are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  27 For as many as were baptized into Christ, put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.  29 And if you are Christ’s then you are of Abraham’s seed and according to promise, heirs.  (Galatians 3:19-29 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

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!

13 thoughts on “Is Our Justification According to Works of the Law or by the Grace of God?

  1. Pingback: Is Our Justification According to Works of the Law or by the Grace of God? | GalatiaU

  2. Mike – our justification IS according to works under the Law AND by the grace of God. But of course you know where I’m goin’ 🙂 Being born under the Law, the Lord Jesus kept it perfectly (the Law of Moses and all the prophets) and, therefore, earned the right to shed His blood to redeem the elect; who are saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ Jesus. No mere mortal man can keep the Law of God, not even the Tablets of Testimony known as the Ten Commandments. So any one who believes his own law keeping has merit is worse off than the fool who says there is no God.


  3. Amen, brother… thank you for reminding us that God is Sovereign. He is the initiator of our salvation through His wonderful son, Jesus. It is a battle and a race that we must run to the finish line, with wounds along the way, but He gives us the strength to carry on. He has us in the palm of His hand and nothing can remove us from His hand since we are His elect that He chose before He created everything. God bless you for ministering the truth in His love.

    I am doing fine. Thank you for your prayers and caring to respond to me a while back.


  4. Beautiful post, Mike!
    I so long for a day when I can share all this with my son….and my still unbelieving husband…
    Heart grieves….yet my trust in our loving Father and our precious Saviour remains strong…Please stand with me in hopeful waiting on the will of our God!


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