Drinking Deeply

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 at 2:51 PM

Justification by faith alone (again)

Read a little bit of NT Wright last night. Also got this comment earlier this day on one of my earlier posts:
The logic of mathematics shows us:

Faith – Works = Justification (how you represent the Free Grace position) is equivalent to saying Faith = Justification + Works (how you represent your position); just as 4-3=1 is equivalent to saying 4=1+3.

What you are espousing, it would seem, is the idea that without works, a person is not justified. The equation for this idea is faith + works = justification. I’m not sure how you logically get around this conclusion. Any thoughts?
Regarding the characterization of free grace theology, the commenter is absolutely right. I was not thinking and wasn't able to accurately represent free grace theology. But that's a comment for that thread.

But there is something that is necessary to reaffirm, and that thing is what exactly we mean by "justified by faith alone." There are a number of errors related to this concept. No Scriptural defense (I guess I can present one if someone wants), but just laying down what I believe.

1) We're justified by a faith that is alone.

This is the no-lordship/free grace position. Namely, we are righteous before God once we have faith. It doesn't matter what that faith looks like in working itself out, whether it produces good works or not, but you're justified. Everything else is just gravy.

2) We're justified by faith because God sees our works and appreciates the effort (or some variant)

This is the traditional Roman Catholic as well as the position of more or less every other non-Evangelical religion out there.

That is our "justified by faith and works" position. We get righteous before God on the basis of faith as well on the basis of our works. Since those works are imperfect, we need that faith for the extra "oomph."

3) We're justified by faith because God sees our future works.

This is my understanding of NT Wright's position, though he is very careful about how he picks his words (everything is so... nuanced). In fact, I think he wouldn't used the word "justified" but maybe "saved" since he uses the word justified for something else (adoption is my impression). Essentially, once we have faith, we're part of God's family with the promise of no condemnation, not guilty because God now has promised he's going to finish the job in us. That finishing the job is that we now walk by the spirit and bear fruit and good works. It's that promise of good works that God makes for us that allows God to declare us justified and righteous before Him.

4) We're justified on the basis of faith alone.

Some people have some weird conception that faith is somehow the greatest work of all, and God looks at our faith and says, "no condemnation!" Needless to say, this makes faith a work.

5) We're justified by faith alone, because God sees Christ's works.

Here's the Scriptural standard. Our works are rags, worthless, hostile to God. God swoops in, and because of His love, gives us this gift of grace. That grace is found in the incarnation of Christ, who lived the perfect and sinless life, thereby earning righteousness (our wages are death). When we have faith (another gift) in Christ's work, death, and resurrection, we share in His death (thus our sins are paid for), and we share in his life. His righteousness becomes ours. That's what allows God to say "No condemnation." He looks at us and He sees a perfectly righteous life lived out in His Son. We don't earn it, before or after we have faith, but it is on the basis of Christ's work that we are saved.

As one of the gifts of Christ's work, we are transformed (heart of flesh instead of heart of stone, born from above, eyes opened, raised from the dead) so that now we are able to do good works, and in fact, we will do good works. Nonetheless, those good works are not the basis upon which God says, "Justified! Righteous!"

Thus our final formulation should look something like this:

The Scriptures (alone) are our infallible authority in testifying that we are justified by Christ('s works) alone, and this through faith alone since this is given by God's grace alone. This is all done so that God alone would get the glory.

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Blogger Eric said...

In commenting on Bishop N.T. Wright are you refering to his latest book, the one on St. Paul?

If you are interested I heard him give an interview on the subject of that book to a Lutheran pastor on the radio. You'll find it here:



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification, but with all due respect sir, I am still having difficulty following your logic. You still seem to be espousing the formula faith + works = justification. No works = no justification. You just seem to want to qualify the works as God-produced or God-enabled.

You seem to be arguing for the following formula: God-given faith + God-produced works = God granted justification. As there is no such thing (from your perspective) as justification without God-produced works, God-produced works are part of the equation that adds up to justification. From that perspective, God-produced works are not a consequent of justification; they are required for justification to exist. What am I missing?  


Anonymous theocentric522 said...

It's helpful not to confuse regeneration and justification. Former is the necessary condition for the kind of faith (God-produced) which embraces the work of Christ whereby God declares us not guilty (justification). Justification is not making anyone righteous it is simply a declaring.

I think what mxu is saying is that works that justifies anyone is a God-produced faith that embraces Christ's work alone as it's basis.

So then, none of OUR works, whether God-produced or man-produced, is a grounds for justification. It's is solely Christ's work on our behalf.

Our works only come in as a consequence of justification. No justified person will NOT be sanctified. God given faith necessarily works out in God-produced works.

Did I get that right? =)  


Blogger mxu said...

theocentric summarizes what I would say fairly well. Allow me to try to rephrase myself as an additional point.

The question that Jesus, Paul, and the whole of Scripture tries to answer is, "How does man get right with God?"

When we are declared righteous by God (or we are "justified"), does God look upon our works prior to faith, our works after faith, or our faith itself?

The answer I'm giving is, "none of the above, God looks at the works of Christ alone to declare His people righteous."

The secondary question is "how do we get in Christ so that God looks at Christ instead of our works?"

The secondary answer is, "by believing in Christ's work as your own." (that's a poor summary for a rich concept, forgive me)

The third question is, "what does that faith look like?"

The third answer is, "if someone truly has a faith that saves, then they will produce good works."

So we are justified through faith and faith alone, but that faith will, like a good tree bearing good fruit, produce good works.

We're not justified on the basis of those works, we're justified on the basis of Christ's works.

Does that help?  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks again for the replies. They are helpful. My primary objection, however, is with the formulation of your view as faith = justification + works. See here for what is likely a better logical formulation of what you are attempting to explain. Thanks for your time.  


Anonymous Anonymous said...

See here .

The link does not seem to work. Here is the address.



Blogger mxu said...

I took a look through the link. It looks pretty good.


does seem to adequately represent a reformed view of justification if we are clear that "works" are only those works that are pleasing to God and faith preceeds all of this.

Unfortunately, while the formulation is technically more accurate, it loses the temporal accuracy of the first eqn. This is, depending on who you're talking to, just as important.

The emphasis of the formula F->J+W

is that faith preceeds justification and faith preceeds good works, and it is Christ's work that justifies us, not our own (notice this isn't in the eqn, but is fairly represented by the fact that W is on the right hand side)

Whatever the case it's not like people expect these formulas to be perfect summaries of the gospel. It's kind of like the analogies in the Bible, meant to demonstrate one point. If taken too far, it will fall apart.

Thanks for the post though, very informative!  


Anonymous theocentric522 said...

That's a very good point about illustrations and analogies. In fact, I would go on to say that even (F<-->J)+(J<-->W) can be stretched beyond it's illustration. According to the argument, you have (NOT W)-->F being a true statement. I don’t understand how this can work biblically. Assuming that you can only have genuine works by having saving faith, how is it that not having genuine works leading to saving faith being a true statement? This is nonsensical to me.

There are many assumptions made for this formula, F<-->J)+(J<-->W), to work. I could even say for the sake of argument this claim: F = W = J. If you have one you must have everything else, then F contains the idea of J and contains the idea of good works. Similarly starting with W and J, we concluded, F = W = J. But if you say W = works of the law by the flesh, then obviously F does not equal W. But notice, we are equivocating. By W, I meant true good works of spiritual value that comes from faith in Christ.

The point is…in order for (F<-->J)+(J<-->W) to work, you have to accept the correct parameters (and not equivocate at any steps, lest you stretch the illustration beyond its intent). Same is true for F = J + W. If you set the correct parameters, you are illustrating Sola Fide correctly/faithfully.

Therefore, Sola Fide is not SOLELY (F<-->J)+(J<-->W). Interesting illustration, but I don’t think R.C. Sproul needs to edit his books.  


Blogger mxu said...

I don't think anyone else is reading this post, but I just realized something.

If we're going to be strictly mathematical and logical about this whole bit, it's more appropriate to write:

F -> J*W and not F -> J+W

As "+" is really "OR" since 1+0=1 (T + F)= T

"*" is "AND" since 1*0=0*1=0*0=0, or T*F=F

But then everyone would get hopelessly confused, what in the world does "Justification*Faith" mean?

And what in the world would "J<->F"*"F<->W" mean?

Good old non-commonsensical math.  


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