Justification by Faith

Justification by Faith

by Michael James Young

May 30, 2002 (Amended December 21, 2003)

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Christians are confusing “justification because of faith” for “justification by faith”. Should pastors be concerned about this? Or is this just nitpicking?

Well, let’s consider the concept of justification because of faith. This represents itself as the process of repentance followed by regeneration. In other words, the prospective Christian is presented the gospel. Upon hearing the “good news”, he repents of his former thinking and turns to Jesus to save him from an eternity in hell. According to Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”; the individual is saved, converted, born-again. He is therefore justified because of his faith.

You may be thinking, “What’s the problem with this?” If so, you’re amongst the majority of professing Christians, regardless of denomination. In an era of salvation by asking Jesus into our hearts, this has become the prevailing understanding of biblical repentance.

Despite its widespread acceptance, this understanding of repentance and regeneration is incorrect. If you bear with me for a moment, I’ll try to explain.

The Bible makes it very clear that there will be those who call on the name of the Lord, but will not be saved. We see this repeatedly in Matthew 7:21-23, in 1John 2:19, and in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 ). Now, before we proceed to wonder if those around us are sincere in their beliefs or not, let’s just continue with this study.

I think the best example of what happens when people hear the gospel comes from the parable of the sower. According to the parable, there’s four type of soil, which the word is sown. The two most obvious soils are represented by the wayward side and the good soil. In the first case, the hearer rejects the notion of salvation through Jesus because of unbelief or indifference. In the later case, the hearer has life changing belief that manifests itself in a converted life that bears much fruit.

Where the concern comes is in the other two soils. These are very rarely dealt with these days. In the case of the seed falling on the thorns, the hearer is caught up in the matters of this world, which results in the seed being choked out, causing it to produce no fruit. But in the case of the stony ground, the hearer receives the word with joy. But ultimately the seed never takes root and withers away.

These individuals that make a profession of faith ought to be the concern of every true believer for several reasons. First they ought to concern us because they may be friends or loved ones. They may be fellow church members. Or they may be our spouses. The second reason they should concern us is that they may contribute to a false perception of Christians via their inconsistent ways. And lastly, they may be propagating false doctrine.

So these are the biblical examples of professing Christians who are not saved. Hopefully, this helps you understand the manifestations of false Christianity, based on biblical citation. But we still need to understand why this happens; and what’s the big deal with these modes of justification. The bible clearly states, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God (Romans 3:11)” and “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).”

Before there can ever be true repentance in a person’s life, there must be this “drawing”. It is natural to think of this as a conviction by the Holy Spirit. I don’t think this view is necessarily incorrect. But it is rather incomplete if we stop here. It is not sufficient to explain that a person is convicted of his sin and thus repents. There must also be some form of understanding given. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1Corinthians 2:14).” In order for a person to repent and turn to Christ, he must be able to understand the spiritual truth of his situation and of the person of Jesus Christ. This ability to understand is impossible for an unconverted sinner. Only a true child of God, one who is indwelt by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, can possibly understand biblical truth.

So, what’s the implication of all of this? In order for a person to exercise biblical repentance, he must be born-again. Therefore, he doesn’t repent to be saved. He repents because he is saved. This is justification by faith.

With this settled, the scriptures concerning faith and salvation are in complete harmony. So that when we consider Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast”, we can truly say that faith and salvation come by the grace of God; and is not the result of any man’s work.

Now then, there are some who believe that God was very intentional when he laid out the scriptures through inspiration. I happen to be one of those people. When we look at the original language as a proof to what we’re discussing here, we must pay attention to the clear text. In the Koine Greek, the word dia (dia) has a couple of meanings. When used in the accusative case it means “because of”. However, when dia is used in the genitive, it means “by” or “through”. In light of this, there is no occurance of dia and “faith” in the accusative case. When faith is used in combination with dia, we always find both used in the genitive. The genitive form of “faith” is pisteuwn .

There are those who would like to ignore this. Their reluctance to accept it would no doubt tear down many falacies. Nevertheless, it is true. Any ignoring of it will no doubt be revisited at a later time; for every man must be held accountable for that doctrine, which he spreads. It is a sad, and unfortunate situation. There are those who spread such doctrine without malevolence, but out of ignorance. This does happen. The true child of God, ought to be sensitive to such infractions and be quick to repent.

2 thoughts on “Justification by Faith

  1. The article is well argued. Justified by Grace (God) through faith,,,and not because of faith.

    One small paragraph did not seem right to me.
    “So, what’s the implication of all of this? In order for a person to exercise biblical repentance, he must be born-again. Therefore, he doesn’t repent to be saved. He repents because he is saved. This is justification by faith.”

    I agree that this is the way it works for the born again Christian. We repent because of the Spirit’s work and our ever increasing knowledge of God’s marvelous love for us in Christ.

    Hy first thoughts though were about the mystery of being born again. That is to say our first repentance and conversion. I can say that I hated the evil that I saw around me before I became a Christian. I became a Christian when the Holy Spirit showed me that the same evil was within me. I was reading Psalm 51 with a hostile,mad at the world and at God, attitude. My intent was to mock the God of the Bible. Somehow at that same moment, as I read verse 4, I accepted my responsibility for sin and I surrendered to a God of whom I new little, except that David knew him as a God of mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

    I could have gone on hating sin around me and even in me, except that I surrendered to the mercy of a God that I scarcely knew. It was God’s work of creation in me that changed me. I was born again.

    Knowledge did not save me. I knew so little. Jesus was not in the picture (yet). I became a believer in the Father of Jesus. Later I was to learn that I had heard the gospel but had been totally blind and deaf to it.

    I will say that I really appreciated your observations about the other 2 kinds of soil. Here I will add that Faith is proven by faithfulness: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is how we can know whether we are real believers of simply deceiving ourselves.

    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what part of what I’ve written that you’re having problems with. It seems to me that we’re in pretty close agreement. The work of salvation is completely the work of God. It’s initiated by God and then completed by God. There are many who seem to feel that there’s a negotiating process. But God’s sovereign. He can command us all day long to repent. Change our minds. Stop sinning. But we’re just incapable. It’s not an issue over free will or anything like that. And we’re not merely mindless automatons. We’re fallen and depraved and incapable of living and thinking righteously on our own.

      So, as in your case, we’re not saved by our knowledge either. The day I was born again, I didn’t know much of anything. But all of a sudden, in an instance or moment, I believed differently. I all of a sudden believed something I never believed before. And there was a certain knowledge that accompanied my sudden belief. This wasn’t head knowledge. It came via grace. Faith, belief and that little bit of knowledge were imparted to me.

      Of course, as time moves on, what I know and believe continues to grow. Or at least it should. It sounds like that has been the case for you as well.

      I will say that one of things we tend to struggle with is the order of events. As human, we tend to think chronologically. Faith, repentance, belief, etc. And the reality is that they sort of occur concurrently. I was trying to express that. But faith and salvation are never causal in the sense that we received them because of our repentance. That would be works.

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