Faith and Works

  • Created by: anoelle
  • Created on: 12-01-18 19:20

Luther and justification by faith alone

  • 'Justification' - being made righteous in the sight of God
  • Middle Ages, RC Church linked justification with Baptism and penance
  • Baptism - God began process of making righteous in his sight by removing OS
  • Process continued by confession and penance
  • People confessed sins to priest, who granted them absolution for any actual sins they had committed and imposed a penance that they must perform
  • Idea formed - penance --> righteousness, that justification was an appropriate reward for good works
  • Closely associated with the doctrine of penance was that of purgatory - RCC, if C died w/o having done adequate penance for their sins, they had to spend time in purgatory to complete that penance
  • Only then would they be accepted into heaven
  • Purgatory - place of suffering where the souls of believers expiated their sins
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Luther and justification by faith alone - Luther

Martin Luther

  • German Augustinian monk and professor of theology; felt deep sense of sinfulness and profound anxiety for his soul's salvation
  • Despite doing all church required of him and spending long ours in prayer, confession and penance, he felt he was losing touch with God, and fell into a deep spiritual despair
  • Eventually, came to conclusion that, far from being a process in which humans had a part, justification was entirely the gift of God.
  • Sinners are not saved by good works, they are saved by faith alone (sola fide), by absolute dependence on God's promise of forgiveness
  • God then makes them righteous
  • Based this conviction on Paul's words in his Epistle to the Romans (1:17): 'The one who is righteous will live by faith'
  • Further support in Romans 5:1 ('we are justified by faith'); Galatians 2:16 ('we know that a person is justified not by the works of law but through faith in Jesus Christ') end Ephesians 2:8-9 ('by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of works, so that no one may boast')
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Luther and justification by faith alone - Luther

  • However, other biblical passages contradicted these Pauline statements
  • The Epistle of James (2:4), for instance, maintains that 'a person is justified by works and not faith alone'
  • Luther failed to reconcile this with the Pauline assertions, but concluded that the Epistle of James was 'an Epistle of straw' that had 'nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it'
  • For Luther, faith was a vital, transforming power, a new and invigorating personal relationship with God
  • 1517, Luther was able to apply his new theory of salvation to a church practice that was an obvious abuse - the sale of indulgences
  • Piece of paper issued by Pope - granted a sinner remission from penance for a payment
  • Proceeds went towards the building of the churchc of St Peter in Rome, although in Wittenberg half of the money went to the Cardinal Archbishop of Mainz to offset what he had paid for his appointment to the archbishopric
  • A commissioner for this collection was Johann Tatzel, a Dominican monk
  • Tetzel overstated Catholic doctrine on indulgencs, alleging that they not onlly liberated the living from doing penance, but also that the souls of the dead could be released from purgatory on payment of a few coins by their surviving relatives
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Luther and justification by faith alone - Luther

  • Well known jingle attributed to him - 'As soon as a coin in the coffer rings/the soul from purgatory springs'
  • Tip - good candidates understand that the selling of indulgences to shorten the time spent by sinners in purgatory was a distortion of Catholic teaching, preaches by a rogue individual, Johann Tetzel
  • To Luther, convinced that salvation was a matter of a right personal relationship with God, Tetzel's teaching was an abomination
  • He preached against the abuse of indulgences, and on 31 Oct 1517 posted on the door of the castlel church in Wittenberg his famous 95 Theses against the clerical abubses in the RCC
  • This was the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation
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The Council of Trent as a Response to Luther

  • 1545 - 1563 RCC held importyant council, Council of Trent to consider response to Reformation
  • On the subject of justification, considered the following questions:
  • Is justification the gift of God or does it require human effort?
  • What is the relationship between faith and good works?
  • What is the relation between justification and the sacraments?
  • Can people know that they are justified?
  • Can people earn justification through works?
  • 1547, it concluded that:
  • God does not just make people righteous; they must become righteous
  • Good works are required as a condition for ultimate justification
  • People cannot bring about their own salvation; must cooperate with the grace of God
  • Justification works in two phases. 1 - righteousness is mediated through baptism, which is God's gift of grace
  • 2 - righteousness is increased by participation in the Eucharist and penance, and by doing good works
  • There is a middle position between assurance of salvation and despair, people can have a relative (not absolute) certainty of justification
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The Council of Trent as a Response to Luther

  • Neither faith nor works can be said to merit justification. Initial justification is by grace, but works are necessary for progressive salvation
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Protestant criticism of the Council of Trent

  • There are biblical grounds to support the doctrine that God acquits sinners of guilt in the sense of not counting their sins against them
  • II Corinthians 5:19, Paul says 'in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them'
  • Justification is thus a declarative act of God's grace
  • Trent proclaimed that 'by his good works the justified man acquires a claim to supernatural reward from God' - contradicts biblical teaching that good works do not merit grace. Grace is a gift, it is unmerited. People work not for a gift but for wages.
  • Trent declared that to 'those who work well unto the end, ... life eternal is ... a recompense ... to their good works and merit'
  • This contradicts biblical teaching that eternal life is 'the gift of God' (Romans 6:23) and is available right now to those who believe (John 5:24)
  • John 6:29 states clearly that the only 'work' necessary for salvation is to believe
  • Christian believers work not in order to receive salvation but because they have already received it
  • Good works are not necessary for salvation, but salvation inevitably produces good works
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A Modern View: E.P. Sanders

  • In his Paul and Palestinian Judaism E.P. Sanders argues that the Jewish religion, in which Paul had been brought up, was not simply a salvation by works of religion
  • On the contrary, there was in Judaism 'a pattern of religion', which Sanders calls covenantal nomism
  • This was the Jews' belief that God had instigated a covenant of grace with them, which made them a 'chosen nation' and gave them a special status
  • They maintained their status in that covenant, however, only by obeying God's commandments
  • The purpose of keeping God's law was therefor to maintain the status
  • The status itself was a gift, not a reward for obedience. So Jews entered the covenant by grace and stayed in by works
  • This, Sanders argues, was the normative Jewidsh view in Paul's time
  • Sanders sets Paul's theology in this light. He maintains that Paul worked his way from solution to the problem
  • The solution is that in Jesus God has acted to save the world
  • The problem therefore must be that the world is in need of salvation
  • But God also gave the Mosaic law. If Jesus is given for salvation, it must follow that the Mosaic law was not
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A Modern View: E.P. Sanders

  • The problem with the Mosaic law was not that it failed to make those who kept it righeous, but that it gave them the wrong kind of righeousness
  • It excluded Gentiles and led the Jews to boast in their ethnicity and election as the people of God
  • Paul realised that people are justified not through the Mosaic law but through the cross of Jesus
  • The justification that jesus achieved for men and women was an act of God's grace, it was not earned by humankind
  • It can only be maintained, however, when men and women respond in gratitude, keeping God's commandments and entering int a mystical participation in Jesus
  • In Sanders' words, 'Christ came to provide a new Lordship for those who participate in his death and resurrection', be they Jews or Gentiles
  • Thus, Christians enter the new covenant by baptism, but must thereafter be made righteous by faith
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A Modern View: E.P. Sanders

Some theologians have criticised Sanders' theory on the grounds that:

  • It uses non-biblical, rabbinic sources to over-ride biblical teaching
  • It explains away contradictory evidence; e.g. the rabbinic literature of Paul's time contains ample evidence of a Jewish belief in righteousness by works
  • It fails to address the problem of self-righteousness - people who believe themselves morally superior to their peers because they adhere strictly to God's commandments
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The extent to which the New Testament letters supp

The extent to which the New Testament letters support arguments for justification by faith alone

  • Argue against the doctrine of justification by faith alone - unbilical
  • NT verses, not only in the Letters but in the Gospels and the Book of Acts as well, that appear to reject it
  • Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says 'let your light shine beforoe others, so that they may see your good works'
  • And in his sermon in Acts 26, Paul says that people 'should repent... turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance'
  • In the Letters specifically, Paul instructs the Romans that it will be 'the doers of the law [who]... will be justified'
  • The Epistle to the Hebrews says that 'by faith Abraham obeyed' so his justification was due not to faith alone, but also to obedience
  • The Epistle of James confirms that Abraham's works were essential to his justification
  • Significantly, the phrase 'by faith alone' occurs only in James 2:24, where it is used to assert that 'a person is justified by works and not by faith alone'
  • Luther stands accused of having added the word 'alone' to Paul's statement in Romans 1:17 that 'The one who is righteous will live by faith'
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The extent to which the New Testament letters supp

  • The NT sees justification as a process; the doctrine of sola fide sees it as a one-off past event
  • It is an antiomian doctrine. Antinomianism teaches that Christians are not obliged to keep any of the Mosaic law, whereas the Council of Jerusalem agreed that Christians are obliged to keep all of the Mosaic laws except those that have to do with Jewish ritual, regulations and ceremonies
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The extent to which the New Testament letters supp

  • Theologians who support the doctrine of justification by faith would answer that there are many NT verses that endorse it, not only in the Letters but in the Gospels and the Book of Acts as well
  • Jesus is asked in the Gospel of John what people must do to perform the works of God
  • He answers, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent'
  • This suggests that all one has to do to acquire salvation is to believe
  • When Paul and Silas are asked by their jailer in Acts 16 what one musy do to be saved, they answer: 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved'. They do not mention works
  • In the Letters, particularly Pauline Letters, there are several verses that support the doctrine
  • Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Paul quotes the prophet Habakuk: 'The one who is righteous will live by faith'
  • In Romans 4, he argues that Abraham was the Old Covenant's model of salvation by faith alone
  • In the New Covenant, God declares sinners righteous by imputing to them the righteousness of Jesus
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The extent to which the New Testament letters supp

The extent to which the New Testament letters support arguments for justification by faith alone

  • In Romans 5, Paul asserts that since 'we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ', and in Phillipians 3, he writes of 'not having a righteousness of my own which comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith'
  • Support for the doctrine is scarce in other Letters, although the Epistle to the Hebrews makes the same quotation from Habakuk as that quoted by Paul in Romans and Galatians
  • However, supporters of the doctrine insist that it focuses on what God has achieved through Jesus, and not on what humans can achieved for themselves
  • This is why Luther considered it to be 'the article by which the church stands'
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The extent to which both faith and works are aspec

The extent to which both faith and works are aspects of justification

  • Some argue both are aspects of justification
  • Justification, they say, is a gradual, cooperative process between God and sinners
  • It is sacerdotal, i.e. it is accomplished through the sacraments of the church
  • They accept that the process begins with God's free gift of baptism, which removes original sin...
  • But it must then be constantly maintained by repentance, penance, prayer, and good works
  • If this is not the case, there is no point for a Christian to try to keep God's Law
  • James (2:24) clarified the issue when he says that justification is 'by works and not by faith alone'
  • James' argument puts people in control of their destiny and appeals too their inherent sense of justice. People can only be declared righteous when they are righteous.
  • If God declares people to be righteous when they are not righteous, God is guilty of deceit and compromises his own justice. This is 'legal fiction'.
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The extent to which both faith and works are aspec

  • Others believe that justification is a one-off, past event. It is forensic, i.e. it is an act of God that makes sinners holy
  • Nothing that sinners ever do can justify them before God; they can never satisfy God's Law
  • They can therefore be justified only through a divine act - God declaring them righteous
  • This God has done once for all through Jesus
  • Justification is based entirely on the sacrifice of Jesus
  • It is a gift of God's grace and is received through faith
  • James' argument in 2:24 is that 'dead faith' is worthless
  • Dead faith is merely an intellectual acceptance of Jesus. It causes no change in a person's life.
  • Real faith produces good works. But good works are the result of justification, not its cause
  • If justification depended on human effort, people would be constantly engaged in a futile struggle to be good enough in the sight of God
  • This would lead to b ondage to God's Law and to the potential for boasting if people thought they were doing well
  • There is no 'legal fiction'. God's justice has not been compromised because in the atonement, God has counted people's sins against Jesus
  • If this were not so, all individuals would have to atone for their sins
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The extent to which both faith and works are aspec

  • The compromise for some Christians is to see that by repentance, penance, prayer and good works are all the flip side of the faith coin
  • In other words, as James writes, it is impossible for faith not to have any impact upon one's life
  • This is not to say that it is by good works that Christians are saved, but simply that, as James writes, 'the evidence' of faith is good works.
  • This position still maintains justification by faith alone and is in line with Paul's teachings


  • One possible solution could be that it is a matter of emphasis and interpretation in combining faith and works,
  • but it is interesting to see that neither side of the debate would suggest that it is by good works alone that a Christian is saved
  • Faith, therefore, seems to have the upper hand in determining justification
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  • 'We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, havinng been made righteous, we do righteous deeds' (Luther)
  • 'What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone' (Romans 9:30 - 32)
  • 'If any one says... that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by faith this alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema' (Council of Trent, Canon XIV)
  • 'Briefly put, covenantal nomism is the view that one's place in God's plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression' (E.P. Sanders)


E.P. Sanders - NT scholar who has contributed much to a new understanding of the writings of Paul

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Read and understand these set texts:

Romans 1:17

17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Galatians 2:1616 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

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Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

James 2:2424 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

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