Justification: Through Faith Not To Faith

It can be difficult to explain that salvation comes by grace through faith in the gospel. Faith being the instrument by which God’s grace is received. Understanding this helps us not to ground our faith in our faith.

For example, if I am struggling with my standing before God and I look to my faith which I am already struggling with for comfort, I am attempting support my weak faith upon itself. Rather, that weak faith is that which holds onto Christ for strength and perseverance trusting in Him not in itself. I thought Horatius Bonar has some helpful words on this issue.

Our justification is the direct result of our believing the gospel; our knowledge of our own justification comes from believing God’s promise of justification to everyone who believes these glad tidings. For there is not only the divine testimony, but there is the promise annexed to it, assuring eternal life to everyone who receives that testimony. There is first, then, a believed gospel, and then there is a believed promise. The latter is the “appropriation,” as it is called; which, after all, is nothing but the acceptance of the promise which is everywhere coupled with the gospel message. The believed gospel saves; but it is the believed promise that assures us of this salvation.

Yet, after all, faith is not our righteousness. It is accounted to us in order to (είς) righteousness (Romans 4:5), but not as righteousness; for in that case it would be a work like any other doing of man, and as such would be incompatible with the righteousness of the Son of God; the “righteousness which is by faith.” Faith connects us with the righteousness, and is therefore totally distinct from it. To confound the one with the other is to subvert the whole gospel of the grace of God. Our act of faith must ever be a separate thing from that which we believe.

God reckons the believing man as having done all righteousness, though he has not done any, and though his faith is not righteousness. In this sense it is that faith is counted to us for, or in order to, righteousness, and that we are “justified by faith.” Faith does not justify as a work, or as a moral act, or a piece of goodness, nor as a gift of the Spirit, but simply because it is the bond between us and the Substitute; a very slender bond in one sense, but strong as iron in another. The work of Christ for us is the object of faith; the Spirit’s work in us is that which produces this faith: it is out of the former, not of the latter, that our peace and justification come. Without the touch of the rod the water would not have gushed forth; yet it was the rock, and not the rod, that contained the water. – Horatius Bonar, The Everlasting Righteousness, Or, How Shall Man Be Just With God? (Lux Publications, CD-Rom 2006), 47.

Faith is the acknowledgment of the entire absence of all goodness in us, and the recognition of the cross as the substitute for all the want on our part. Faith saves, because it owns the complete salvation of another, and not because it contributes anything to that salvation. There is no dividing or sharing the work between our own belief and Him in whom we believe. The whole work is His, not ours, from the first to last. Faith does not believe in itself, but in the Son of God. Like the beggar, it receives everything, but gives nothing. It consents to be a debtor forever to the free love of God. Its resting-place is the foundation laid in Zion. It rejoices in another, not in itself. Its song is, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us.” – ibid, 49-50.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Galen September 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I still don’t understand this doctrine completely. Jesus said that we still had to follow the law, Paul was the one that said it didn’t apply anymore. Plus, James 2:17 says “faith without works is dead.” James, being Jesus’ brother, would have known Jesus much better than Paul, who never actually met Jesus until after he had died. I’m not trying to bash it, I’m just wondering how it works with the Bible. It seems like the “sola fide” doctrine came around after the Bible had been written.

Matthew 5:17-20
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

2 Mark September 8, 2010 at 12:27 am


Are you saying that this quote from Matthew provides a different way of salvation than my post expresses? If so, would you please explain how so I understand what you mean?

3 Galen September 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I was just curious, honestly. I’ve seen it brought up a lot and I always think of this verse. I did read part of a book that focuses on Paul, but with a new perspective. It said that he wasn’t against the Law, but was against forcing it upon the Gentiles. The Jews were already justified through the Covenant and the Gentiles could enter the Covenant through Christ. So considering Jesus was talking to mostly Jews at the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps that was why he was telling them to keep the Law – it wasn’t a way to being justified, it was a symbol that they already were. I’m not saying I take this stance but it was interesting to think about

But really, when it comes down to it the quote can mean different things to different people (and not all of them have to be right/wrong). I’ve just never understood how it works, it seems like two different ideas.

4 Mark September 9, 2010 at 11:16 am


You should check out this post Did Jesus preach Paul’s gospel?.

Back to your first comment. Are you saying we should trust Matthew’s writing more than Paul’s? We even have Peter calling Paul’s writing Scripture. I don’ t know where you get the impression that James may have known Jesus better. Jesus Apostles would have know Him best. Just look at Mark 3:21, “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “[Jesus] is out of his mind.” (ESV)

I was hoping you would explain what you meant by claiming that Paul taught different doctrine. But if you are asserting that Matthew 5:17-20 is showing what one must do to be saved I’d ask you – Have you ever broken the ‘least of these commandments’? Ever lead ‘others to do the same’? How do you know you are sufficiently practicing and teaching all of the commands? And where does Jesus say these things lead to salvation? And lastly, does ‘your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law’?

5 Galen September 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Well first off, some traditions hold James as one of his apostles. Nonetheless, James was the head of the Jerusalem church, and both Paul and Acts say that he was an influential character. Even early texts such as the Gospel of the Hebrews (as quoted from Jerome) and the Gospel of Thomas, that didn’t make it into the Bible, assert that James was a very important figure in the early Church. Even if he didn’t (which obviously wouldn’t make sense considering he became such an important figure), Paul didn’t meet Jesus until after the resurrection (if you can call it a meeting).

On the Matthew vs. Paul thing, are you saying that Paul’s writing is more authoritative, even though Matthew documents the life of Jesus – that some books are more inspired than others? That could be an interesting discussion. And for the sake of your argument against Matthew, your linked post references Luke, but why should we “trust [Luke’s] writing more than Paul’s?” Same with the Mark quote in your last comment. To take it even further, if they aren’t as authoritative, should we even follow what they say?

We have very little, near none, of Jesus’ life inside the Pauline writings, only a few details about his death, resurrection, and return. Barely anything is brought up about his life or sayings other than not to get divorced and that he was perfect. When it comes to the life of Jesus, we don’t have much at all outside of the Gospels. I could also address the authorship of 2 Peter, but, once again, that is a different argument.

I never came out and said that they taught something different, I was just asking how to reconcile the two. It may have seemed that I was claiming that though, I understand.

Now, as for the last paragraph, which clearly looks accusatory, I could quote multiple things, both from Paul and Jesus, about judging and blaming others. But, I am going under the impression that taking it as so would be a misunderstanding, and your point is that it is impossible to keep the Law. It is actually a Christian misconception that Jews had to be perfect in following the Law to be justified/declared righteous. Keeping the Law is an honor to God, not a requirement into “heaven.” Besides, Jews didn’t believe in a “heaven” as we do, in fact they have varying beliefs on the afterlife. Some of them, such as the Chasidic Jews, believe in reincarnation. In Judaism, God is merciful and doesn’t condemn people to Hell for eternity because of some sins. Judaism isn’t focused on how to get into the afterlife, it focuses on how to live. They don’t follow the Law to get something in return, they do it out of love for God. They see following the Law as an honor and a privilege. Most Jews that have the view of the afterlife as a world to come, and they prepare for it by reading the Torah and good deeds. But this is not to say that it merits them into heaven or the like, and not all people will get an “equal share” of the afterlife, some will be better than others depending on their life. But they don’t have to keep every single law to make it. Just ask a Jew.

No I have not kept all of the 613 Mitzvot, and Jesus doesn’t say it leads to salvation, but he does say that some will be the “least in the Kingdom of heaven,” making it sound like there will be ones higher. It is only logical that if there is a “least,” then there is a “most” and in between as well. This is a very Jewish perspective of the afterlife, and makes sense considering Jesus was Jewish. I’m not Jewish, because to be officially Jewish, either your mother has to be Jewish or you have to go through the official conversion process. Following the Law doesn’t make you Jewish, just like the “God-fearers” in the New Testament.

Finally, I should address the expansion on the Paul vs. Jesus doctrine, which, again, I never said there was a problem, I was just asking for an explanation. But, for the sake of it, because maybe I do believe there is a difference, Paul and Jesus came from very different backgrounds. Paul, for example, had a view of the world, as well as cultural differences between us and him, that was unique (just like everyone else in the world). He was once a Pharisee, and he had some kind of health problem (or maybe sinning problem, see 2 Corinthians 12:7). He also never met Jesus until after the resurrection, as I have pointed out. He could not have spent much time with Jesus, not only because of what Acts said, but he also accounts for most of the years between his conversion and his letters, not to mention he was constantly on the move. Then comes in, of course, divine revelation, such as was brought up in the video. Maybe God channels through us and we get an idea of Jesus through the Gospels and Paul got one through visions and such. But still, the issue that Jesus and Paul seem to have differing opinions on the Law. Jesus, by saying the Law wasn’t going away, was sticking to the Jewish belief that the Covenant made with Abraham was everlasting. The reason they believe that is because God told Abraham that in Genesis 17:7(“I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”) They don’t believe that God would go back on his word with them and it not be everlasting, no matter what happened. That’s why in my second comment I offered a solution (which worked with the everlasting covenant with Abraham and Jesus), but if you have others then cool, I’d like to hear them.

6 mark mcculley January 16, 2011 at 12:42 am

I agree that justification is by faith alone (without works) and not on account of faith alone. But I am wondering about the future judgment of the non-elect. Will they be condemned by works, through works, but not on account of works?


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