Justification by Faith vs Religion

by Mike Ratliff

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “ But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17 (NASB)

The Protestant Reformation was used by God to restore the lost doctrine of Justification by Faith. Also, all of the reformers were adamant that the Bible be available to all people in a language they could read and understand. The Roman Catholic Church of that era was apostate and taught a corrupt gospel based on works. The Bible was kept locked up and away from non-scholars. It was always read verbally to the people in Latin, which few understood.

As the Bible was translated from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into German, English, French, etc. the doctrine of Justification by Faith became central. Why would our enemy and his seed seek to bury this doctrine within religion?

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. Galatians 2:11-16 (NASB) 

Never forget that even though we are in Christ and are regenerate and have the Holy Spirit, we can also fall into the sin of seeking to be justified by our actions. Even the Apostle Peter fell into this sin. Peter traveled to Antioch of Syria to the church there. It was made up of mostly Gentiles. He ate with and fellowshipped with them. However, when James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, came to visit, Peter withdrew from fellowship with the Gentile Christians. As a result, the other Jewish Christians, except for Paul, did as well. Why would Peter, or any of the other Jewish Christians do this? Think with me. Let’s move forward to the 21st Century. I hear this a great deal so I know that this following sin is prevalent in the Church today. Pornography is rampant and it has a grip of death in the hearts of many professing Christians. However, to a man, I contend that they who are in bondage to it can control their addiction and not pursue it if their wife, or mother, or friend, or Pastor, or their children, or anyone else is with them. They go after it only when they are alone. Isn’t this revealing that their fear of man is greater than their fear of God?

That was Peter’s sin. He knew that he had been justified by faith alone and not by keeping the Law. However, when pressure was put on him from the leaders of the Jewish Christians, he succumbed to the fear of men rather than abiding in the fear of God. Our works do not justify us. If so, then we would all have to keep the Law perfectly. In God’s economy, our works are totally unacceptable as a means of salvation. Why? The root of sinfulness is in the fallenness of man’s heart, not his actions. The Law serves as a mirror to reveal sin, not as a cure for it.

All genuine believers have been justified by faith. The Greek word that is translated as “justified” is a forensic word that describes a judge declaring an accused person not guilty and therefore innocent before the law. Throughout scripture this word refers to God’s declaring a sinner not guilty and fully righteous before Him by imputing to him or her the divine righteousness of Christ and imputing the person’s sin to our sinless Saviour.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB) 

All genuine believers are saved by grace through faith. It is by God’s unmerited favor that we are saved through the conduit of faith. It is God’s work not ours. For if we did it then it would be a work and that would not be by Grace. If we did it then we could boast. However, it is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. The way this passage is structured in Greek, the word “that” in the phrase, “and that not of yourselves,” refers to the entire previous statement of salvation. The grace and the faith are God’s work. We are required to believe in order to be justified by faith, but even that faith is part of the gift of God that saves and cannot be exercised by one’s own power. If so, then this passage is false. I prefer to believe what the Bible says rather than what my pride wants to believe. Therefore, I reject what my “common sense” says about this and believe that God saved me despite myself.

Believers are New Creations who are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. These good works cannot produce salvation but are subsequent and resultant God-empowered fruits and evidences of it. God has ordained that all of His children walk in these good works. We are to walk before the face of God by His grace, in obedience, and in our fear of Him. We are most definitely capable of relapsing into walking in the fear of men, but when we do that we are walking outside of the good works within which God has ordained for us to walk. It does not alter our justification because that came to us by faith through grace, not works. However, if we are genuine believers we will abide in our Lord’s Word. We will not fall away.

Now we return to our original question. Why would our enemy seek to bury the doctrine of Justification by Faith in religion? If people believe they are Christians by their own works then they may not be saved, but unfortunately those in this group  who are genuine will also believe their “walk” is entirely up to them as well. It is imperative that we preach the whole Gospel. People must understand their fallen nature and hopelessness of being reconciled to God by works. Then as they hear the good news of the salvation available to those who believe, the Holy Spirit will open their hearts to do so. It is through this that God justifies those who believe. On the other hand, if this doctrine is ignored as well as man’s fallen nature, then a corrupt gospel is preached that saves no one

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Justification by Faith vs Religion

  1. Excellent post, Mike. Can I add some thoughts?

    The biblical narrative stories of faith…starting with the detailed life-script of Abraham…all the way through to the apostle Paul…have goals, mission-plans, and outcomes that are supernaturally beyond the capacity for humans to achieve…to orchestrate…to contrive…to even dream-up on our own.

    The callings of God require biblical faith as defined in Hebrews 11:1…having gaps in time between the promises and callings of God…and their fulfillment later through God’s direct help and participation.

    If the biblical narrative stories of faith were like paint-by-the-numbers art projects…where we had the entire game-plan spelled-out upfront…then the callings and missions of God would be judged more on how well we performed in completing the canvas…a competition to see who could follow directions using their talents and abilities.

    Faith in God is an entirely different animal. Our following God by faith rather than by works allows for a personal relationship to develop…rather than an individual test for fitness in merely painting within the lines…that we could never perfectly pass anyway within the realm of absolute morality…thus the need for God to write our life-scripts having a large dose of grace, forbearance, and forgiveness…and goals that are achievable with His help.

    Excellent point about the Protestant Reformation putting the Bible into the hands of the common people.

    I think the importance of the biblical narrative stories of faith has been under atheistic attack for hundreds of years…for “anti-scientific” miracles…to attempt again to destroy the critical biblical faith component of these story-lines that gives them their life and power.

    God bless you, Barton.


  2. To my mind, Heb 11:1 describes a two-fold Belief. First, we need to Believe In God, that he exists and is involved in our daily lives, and Second, we need to Believe what He Says! Believing and accepting His Word. Mike, I dearly love the words you posted. I Believe the same. And, well said Burton.


  3. I never noticed this before…v12 “certain men from James”, and v16 “man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ“……is there a connection between this and James’ emphasis in his epistle on “works”? Was James actually emphasizing “works” of the law?


  4. Eon, Works are important but only after Faith! Faith without works is like a tinkling brass. A little noise and nothing else. We have a command of Christ to go into the world and Teach the Gospel, making disciples of all who will. That requires work. Also “…the field are white unto harvest” and to work in those fields requires a strong Faith.


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