Is Justification by Grace or by Works?

by Louis A. Turk, Ph.D.

Which of the following Bible passages is true?

Gal. 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified....3:11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

or

James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

These two passages of scripture seem to teach the exact opposite doctrines. Is this a contradiction in the Bible, proving the Bible to be untrue? Does James chapter two teach that salvation is by works? No, this is not a contradiction---the Bible never contradicts itself. No, the second chapter of James does not teach that salvation is by works. Both of these Bible passages are true!

Justification Defined

To justify is to declare or pronounce one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be. Another way to say this is, Justification is to be made just as though you had never sinned in God's eyes. Justification is a legal term.

An Amazing Fact

While no one can be saved from Hell without being justified, it is nevertheless possible to be justified without being saved from Hell! How can this be so?

We must let the Bible interpret itself.

"No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (1 Pet. 1:20). When we encounter a verse that puzzles us, we must carefully study the context looking for the answer. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16), and is therefore without error or contradiction of any kind. And if God cares enough about us to give us His words in an inerrant form, it is obvious that He will preserve His words from generation to generation so that people can always learn from them the vital truths God authored them to convey.

Psalms 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. 7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

So we can be confident that there is a pure, inerrant Bible still in existence today. We can discard any fears that the above two passages of scripture contradict each other.

Note the point of view!

Gal. 3:11 says that "no man is justified by the law IN THE SIGHT OF GOD."

James 2:18 says "shew ME thy faith without thy works, and I will shew THEE my faith by my works." James was talking about justification IN THE SIGHT OF MAN.

While we cannot be justified in the sight of God by our works, there is no other way to be justified in the sight of man but by works. God can see the heart, but man can only see our works. You can fool man, but you cannot fool God. You can live a very good life outwardly so that they praise you for being what you ought to be, even though down in your heart you my be defiled by viles sins.

The unpleasant truth our proud hearts try to hide

So you can be justified (by men) even though you are a wicked person headed straight for Hell. But God sees your heart, and knows the truth about your real condition. This is what God says:

Jer. 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Ecc. 7:20 For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Rom. 3: 9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Do not let your heart deceive you. You are a sinner just like all men. You have broken God's law. You are not just. You have gone astray. You have been self-willed. You are not righteous. You are not good. Your heart is desperately wicked.

Your works condemn you in God's eyes.

Furthermore, you cannot be saved by your works because they condemn you. If you keep all of God's laws except one, then that one law will be your eternal condemnation.

James 3:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole laws, and yet offend in one point, he is quilty of all.

So, if you want to trust to your own righteousness (your perfect keeping of the law), you had better not ever sin---no, not even once. For if you commit even one iniquity, God will forget all your righteousnesses, and you will be condemned to die to go to a Devil's Hell because of that one sin. If you do not continue in ALL things which are written in the book of the law to do them, you will be brought under the curse!

Ezekiel 33:13 When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.

Gal. 3:7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

God's Righteousness Versus Man's Righteousness

Since you have no righteousness of your own, and since only righteous people are allowed into Heaven, you desperately need to receive God's righteousness! Listen to what the apostle Paul told the Christians at Corinth and the Christians at Rome:

1 Cor. 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. 5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) 7 Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) 8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Because God laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all, and because Jesus was nailed the the cross to die for our iniquities, was buried, and then rose from the dead, therefore Jesus is able to give His perfect righteousness to every person that believes in Him.

Why we should do good works

Christians should so live their lives so as to be justified in the eyes of men, so that they can win men to Christ. But I repeat, never can you be justified in the eyes of God by your works. The only way to be justified in God's eyes is to place your faith in the finished work of God's Son on the cross, so that Christ's righteousness might be imputed unto you. Note verse 39 in the following passage for the book of Acts:

Acts 13:26 Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. 27 For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. 28 And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. 30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. 32 And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, 33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. 34 And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. 35 Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: 37 But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. 38 Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; 41 Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.

Salvation is not of works.

The fact that salvation is not by works is made exceedingly clear in the Bible:

Eph. 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

Grace and Works Cannot Be Mixed

Either salvation is totally by grace, or else it is totally by works. Salvation cannot be started by grace but finished by works.

 
Romans 11:6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. 5 He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Conclusion

Justification in the sight of men is by works, but justification in the sight of God which brings salvation from Hell is by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, "not of works lest any man should boast."

 
Romans 9:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. 31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.





Louis A. Turk, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D.

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