Justified by Faith
© 2000 William R. Cunningham
We are going to discuss a principle that is revealed to us in the Epistle to the Galatian church. This principle is that justification is by faith and not by works. Many times people are deceived into thinking that salvation is based on some type of work that they must do. For example, some people may believe that unless they "speak in tongues" that they are not saved because the evidence of the Holy Spirit is not seen. Others believe that doctrinal issues such as tithing, and church attendance affect their salvation.
We are going to examine the concept of justification and the issue of works. What is salvation based on and what is the importance of works?
A Different Gospel
Let’s turn our attention to the incident in the church at Galatia. You will realize that the same type of thing happens even today as I already mentioned.
Galatians 1:6 through Galatians 1:7 (NKJV) 6I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Paul discovered that there was another teaching being perpetuated within the church at Galatia that directly challenged the gospel of faith that Paul used to start the Galatians church personally. There were certain Jewish "Christians" called Judaizers that were convinced that the New Testament message of salvation did not do away with the Old Testament laws. There was emphasis on the rite of circumcision as well. In other words, the Judaizers believed and taught that Christians were required to follow Old Testament rituals and law in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, i.e., faith was not enough. To them, salvation was based on the principle of works, which translates into following the law.
We should also note that the Epistle to the Galatians dealt with a fundamental problem at this time in Christian history. The Jewish people considered themselves special in the eyes of God, which included their "Jewish" rituals and ceremonies—the law. How can Christianity for the gentiles and the Jews be reconciled? That was the question that Paul answers in this Epistle.
This same practice occurs today. Certain denominations believe that they know the true way to God and how to live as a true Christian. Other churches believe that their way is the correct way and that they are special to God because of their adherence to His laws. I remember growing up as a child and how one church that we used to fellowship with believed that unless you were baptized in the name of Jesus then you were not truly saved because you were not baptized correctly. Others believe that you have to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and therefore everyone else is wrong. The bickering goes on.
We tend to believe that our petty methods of works and activities somehow make a difference to God. We tend to believe that our works impress God or displease God, which in some cases affect our very salvation. In other words, many believe that works and not faith secure their salvation.
Turning Away From The Truth
Paul was amazed that the Galatians were turning away from the true gospel in order to follow a false gospel, which was based on works. The gospel that they were turning towards was a perversion of the true gospel that was preached by Paul and the other apostles. There are some things that we should establish here before we move on because it would help our understanding of the scope of this problem. We should identify justification, the gospel that Paul preached, and works.
The Gospel That Paul Preached
I was amazed during a Bible study some time ago that many people did not know what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is. They knew what the word gospel meant or at least they were able to give the standard answer of "good news." However, many professed Christians do not know what the Gospel of Jesus Christ actually is. That was the gospel that Paul preached to the gentiles and is of great importance here. First let’s identify the gospel that Paul preached and then we will briefly look at the concept of justification.
1 Corinthians 15:1 through 1 Corinthians 15:5 (NKJV) 1Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.
The gospel of Christ could be summarized as follows.
Christ died for our sins
He was buried
He rose from the dead
He was seen by people
Now we cannot go into all of the aspects of the gospel because that is beyond the scope of this lesson. However, you can read my study on Salvation for more information. Christ paid the penalty for our sins by dying in our stead. He died so that we would not have to. He was buried because he experience physical death. This was a testament to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was actually dead. He rose from the dead. God brought Jesus Christ back to life and many others saw him. That acted as a witness to the fact that Jesus was actually alive again. Consider the following scripture.
John 3:16 through John 3:17 (NKJV) 16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
If we believe in Jesus Christ then we will obtain eternal life and not have to die because of our sinful nature. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The important thing to notice here is that our salvation is not based on anything that we do in the sense of works to earn salvation. Salvation is provided because of what Jesus Christ has already done and more so by the grace and mercy of God since he decided to save us on His own. Our task is to believe (put our faith in the redemptive act of Christ) and we shall be saved. If we hold that our salvation is based on works then we mock what Jesus has done and imply that his work was not enough for us. So the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus died so that we could live and all we have to do is to believe in that redemptive act and experience the salvation of the Lord.
Justification means to pronounce or declare righteous. This deals with man’s standing with God once saved (regenerated). The doctrine of justification deals with God’s way of dealing with man who is unrighteous. Man does not have the capacity to stand before a righteous God. All that we have or do are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
Justification deals with the act of not imputing our sins and the act of imputing righteousness on us. Therefore, justification is a declaration of right standing and not a conversion in the strict sense. By the fact that the Holy Spirit resides in us we have a new nature and therefore a new Way of life to live. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are going to do the right thing from that moment on. God has declared us righteous if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This means that our salvation is secured in Christ and not in works else justification could be earned and also imply a self-conversion instead of the righteous act and declaration of God.
See Romans 1:18 – 3:20.
We are not justified or saved by works. However, works do have a place in the life of a Christian. Works are the results of living the Christian way and not the reason for it. In other words, a person isn’t a Christian because he or she has performed the necessary works. Instead, he or she performs righteous acts (works) because he or she is a Christian and this is due to the new nature from the Holy Spirit. Works therefore is a by-product or result of the Christian lifestyle and not a cause of the Christian Way. Consider the following scriptures.
James 2:14 through James 2:17 (NKJV) 14What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2:18 through James 2:21 (NKJV) 18But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
It is easy to say that you have faith and that you are a Christian. However, does your actions give evidence of your statements of faith. Faith is not founded on works; instead works is founded upon faith in that it is the results of faith. We could say, "talk is cheap" or "put your money where your mouth is." These imply that some action is needed to confirm your statement of faith.
For example, consider the following scriptures.
John 1:3 through John 1:5 (NKJV) 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
The light that we shine forth originates from Jesus Christ. The light of Christ is evident in us by others by the good works that we do. No one can look at a person and say, "Look. He’s a Christian." Instead, they determine that someone is a Christian by the works that they do or the lifestyle that they practice. The Christian Way in us is seen by the things that we do and the way we conduct ourselves.
Let me give you another example. Consider the following scripture.
1 John 1:6 through 1 John 1:7 (NKJV) 6If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Saying you have fellowship is one thing but does your fellowship have corresponding evidence, that is, the fellowship with God. Does your daily walk show that you are in fellowship with God and therefore a member of the body of Christ?
Justified by Faith
Galatians 3:1 through Galatians 3:3 (NKJV) 1O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
The Galatians were pulled away from the truth by deception. Paul says that they were bewitched. The word bewitched comes from a Greek word that means to malign (slander), that is, (by extension) to fascinate (by false representations). Someone had caused the Galatians to believe the false gospel due to their presentation of that gospel and not because it was shown to be true. The Galatians knew the truth but were pulled away from that truth. How could we begin in the Spirit and then hold that our perfection (sanctification) is of the flesh (works)?
Paul uses the fact that Abraham was called righteous because he believed God to show that our righteousness is based on faith (belief in what God said) and not by works. Faith therefore justifies us.
The Curse of the Law
Galatians 3:10 through Galatians 3:12 (NKJV) 10For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." 11But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." 12Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them."
Anyone who attempts to live according to the law is already cursed. This is a result of the fact that no one can fully live up to the requirements in the law. We will all sin. Those who have been justified by God will live by their faith. This means that the justified (saved folk) will live by the steadfastness that they have in Christ.
False Teaching on Living By Faith
I remember some time ago that a teaching pertaining to the just living by faith was perpetuated and I believed it until I examined the scripture for myself. Consider the following scripture, which Paul referenced above.
Habakkuk 2:4 (NKJV) 4 "Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.
It was taught that a just person would live their life having faith in God for a new car, money, and a new home, etc. That is not what this verse says. It simply states that a person that is just (lawful or righteous) will put his confidence and security in God and not in self as the proud do. A righteous person relies on God instead of self. Sure we may trust God to give us a car, however, that is a twisted version of this scripture though it does apply in some cases. This scripture refers to a lifestyle issue and not circumstantial issues. It refers to a lifestyle of relying on, trusting, and having total confidence in God the Father.
Galatians 5:1 through Galatians 5:2 (NKJV) 1Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.
Since we are free (from the previous verses), then let us stand firm in that freedom and do not be trapped and bound by "religion." Christians are liberated from the law and from the bondage of sin. It makes no sense to run towards such bondage again. Don’t allow yourselves to be trapped into false teachings such as these.
Galatians 5:3 through Galatians 5:4 (NKJV) 3And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
If you attempt to live by the law then you are required to live by the whole law. If you insist on living your life according to the law then you have effectively alienated yourself from Christ. You are doomed to failure because you cannot keep the whole law. In addition to this, your attempt to be justified by the law has effectively caused you to fall from the grace of God.
Galatians 5:5 through Galatians 5:6 (NKJV) 5For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
The hope of righteousness is eternal life (the final verdict of innocence and totally removed from sin). Our hope of eternal life is based on faith in Jesus Christ, which is through the Holy Spirit (See Ephesians 1:13-14). Now in Christ (how we should conduct ourselves and how the Kingdom of God is) there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (especially since these deal solely with the body). We also note that Paul says that what’s important is the kind of faith that works through love.
Galatians 5:7 through Galatians 5:9 (NKJV) 7You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. 9A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
The false teaching perpetuated throughout the church similar to the way leaven leavens an entire loaf. It starts small and through a series of influences, begins to spread throughout the church. Therefore we should be careful in accepting things that we hear in church. Remember that this letter was written to a church that began to accept a false teaching. The same thing happens even today. Amen.
The Judaizers were teaching that the gentile Christians as well as the Jewish Christians had to adhere to the Jewish rituals and ceremonies. They seemed to stress the ritual of circumcision. In essence, they taught a perverted or altered gospel by adding requirements for righteousness and thus salvation. The same thing happens today as I stated earlier.
We are sometimes taught that our righteousness is dependant on our church attendance or how we support or church or pastor. We are told that our justification is related to a loyalty to a particular local church. We are sometimes told that God’s acceptance of us is based on our submitting to religious authorities such as the pastor, elder, bishop, etc. These couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our righteousness is based on God’s declaration made possible by the redemptive act of Jesus Christ and that alone.
Romans 4:16 (NKJV) 16Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all
We believe and are saved and the salvation that we believe in is a free gift from God. We can do nothing to earn it and we surely do not deserve it. Your church attendance or financial support has nothing to do with your obtaining salvation. These things will be affected by your justification. What do I mean? You will tend to want to go to church because of the fellowship and the instruction that you receive from that church. You will tend to support your local church because it has proven to be beneficial for your Christian edification. These are a result of your justification and these acts are therefore not the reason for your justification.
Do not believe a false gospel—a perversion of the truth. The truth is that Jesus died for your sins and all you have to do is put your faith in him and you will obtain everlasting life made possible by Jesus’ redemptive act. You don’t have to work for your salvation. But you may say, "What about the following scripture?"
Philippians 2:12 through Philippians 2:13 (NKJV) 12Therefore, 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; 13for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
The term "work out" does not mean, "work for." So Paul is not saying to work for your salvation in fear and trembling. The term "work out" (from the Greek rendering) means to bring to completion. Salvation is a process shown by the principle of sanctification. We constantly head toward the mark and grow in the faith. We constantly work to show the salvation that we have and not work to obtain salvation. Works are due to salvation and not the other way around.
Therefore, base your life on faith in God and believing in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Believe that the redemptive act of Christ was enough to deliver you or rescue you from the impending calamity of eternal separation from God (the second death in Revelations). Believe that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as payment for your sins was sufficient. Don’t hold to a proud spirit and believe that in addition to Christ’s act that you have to do something. Don’t be deceived to believe that your faith is dependant on the teachings of someone. Many believe that they can save themselves but that is mere heresy and far from the truth. Jesus came to rescue us so receive that salvation and live the Christian life more and more each day as you grow in the faith (are sanctified). Amen.