In part 1, we shared some basic thoughts on the doctrine of “Sola Fide” (faith alone). Today, we will focus on some common Catholic objections to this teaching and see how they hold up. So, let’s jump right in.
CATHOLIC CLAIM – THE DOCTRINE OF “FAITH ALONE” IS NOT FOUND IN THE BIBLE. IN FACT, THE ONLY TIME THE WORDS “FAITH” AND “ALONE” ARE USED TOGETHER IN THE BIBLE IS IN JAMES 2:24, WHERE IT SPECIFICALLY SAYS THAT A MAN IS JUSTIFIED BY WORKS, AND NOT BY FAITH ALONE.
James and Justification
At first, this sounds like a good argument. But the Apostle Paul tells us that a man is justified by faith APART FROM (i.e., WITHOUT) WORKS (Romans 3:28; 4:4-5). Are James and Paul contradicting each other, or is something else going on?
This can be easily cleared up by looking at the CONTEXT in each passage. James is dealing with members of the church who claim to be Christian, yet are not showing the evidence of it. He is asking, “Where is the demonstration of your Christianity? Are you ‘walking the walk’ or just ‘talking the talk’?” James is demanding PROOF of a man’s faith: “What use is it, my brethren, if a man SAYS he has faith but he has no works?" (Romans 2:14 NASV). "SHOW me your faith without the works, and I will SHOW you my faith by my works" (James 2:18 NASV). It's all about whether one's faith is a true (demonstrable) faith or a dead one.
On the other hand, Paul (in Romans chapter 3, 4, and 5) is specifically dealing with the issue of how a man can be made right in the eyes of God, i.e., how to become justified / saved. So, these are two different contexts altogether. Romans is about achieving justification, James is about demonstrating the proof of your justification.
But, what exactly IS James talking about in chapter 2, when he says a man is “justified” by works? In this context, “justified” means VINDICATED, or PROVEN, in the eyes of men, not God. God already knows if our faith is real. There may be someone in the church who claims to be a Christian, yet demonstrates no evidence of it. If there is no proof of his salvation, why should anyone believe that he is a Christian? But the person is justified in the eyes of man, i.e., vindicated, when he exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in his life (by good works) and other people can see this proof. This same word, “justify / justified” is used in this way (to mean “vindication”) elsewhere in Scripture (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:29, 10:29, and 16:15), so Paul’s use of the term “justified” in this way in the context of James 2, makes perfect sense.
CATHOLIC CLAIM - BUT THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER BIBLE VERSES THAT TIE SALVATION IN WITH WORKS. WHY DO PROTESTANTS ALWAYS TURN TO ROMANS 3, 4, AND 5?
The “Owner’s Manual” Analogy
Ok, let me ask a simple question. If you were having problems with the headlights on your car, to what section of the owner’s manual would you turn to fix the problem? Would you look under “Tires” or “Engine” or “Exhaust System”? No, of course not. You would go directly to the section on “Headlights” because that’s where the solution would most likely be found. Now, you might also find some relevant information on your headlight problem in other areas of the owner’s manual, like under “Fuses” or the “Electrical System”. But the most useful information, the most helpful, the most important info you would find would be under the section on headlights. To understand your headlights, this MAIN and primary section should be sought first and foremost, and all the other (secondary) sections that just touch on headlight information, would have to revolve around that main section.
In the same way, to understand justification (in the salvation sense), you would go to the section in the Bible that deals specifically and directly with that topic as a doctrine, and that would be Romans chapter 3, 4, and 5. This answers the question, “How is a person made right with God?” If there is any other section that mentions justification, it must be understood in light of those three chapters in Romans, because these chapters make up the most comprehensive, clearest, and longest-running, continuous passage in all of Scripture that SPECIFICALLY deals with how a man is made right with God. They DEFINE the doctrine of justification. Bible verses that specifically deal with a particular topic, in depth, have primacy over “passing reference” verses.
And the message of these chapters clearly indicates that justification is by faith, apart from works:
“Because BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW NO FLESH WILL BE JUSTIFIED in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (3:20)
“Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of WORKS? NO, but by a law of FAITH.” (3:27)
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith APART FROM WORKS of the Law.” (3:28)
“For IF Abraham was justified BY WORKS, he has something to boast about; but NOT BEFORE GOD.” (4:2)
“Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But TO THE ONE WHO DOES NOT WORK, BUT BELIEVES in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. (4:4-5)
“Just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness APART FROM WORKS” (4:6)
“Therefore having been JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1)
Looking at these passages, it’s hard to ignore Paul’s message. Over and over, we see the same idea. God justifies man by faith and not by works. God justifies the Jew by faith [“apart from his works”], and He justifies the Gentile by faith [“apart from his works”, also]. (Romans 3:27-30) Very simple and very direct.
Other verses throughout Scripture that support this concept include:
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.
Galatians 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.
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.
Romans 11:6 – But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. (All verses above from the NASV)
CATHOLIC CLAIM - BUT IN ROMANS (CHAPTERS 3, 4, AND 5), PAUL IS REFERRING TO “THE LAW,” THAT IS, THE CEREMONIAL WORKS OF THE OLD MOSAIC LAW. PAUL IS NOT SPEAKING HERE OF THE “MORAL LAW,” WHERE OUR GOOD WORKS OF MERCY ARE DONE IN THE STATE OF GRACE.
Works of the Law
The “works” that Paul spoke of did indeed include those Old Testament, ceremonial works, but were certainly NOT LIMITED to those. For example, in Romans 3, he mentions “the law” (v. 21 and v.31), and “the deeds [works] of the law” (v. 28). And immediately after, in 4:1, where the same context is continued, Paul speaks of Abraham, and how he was saved by faith, apart from “the law”.
But wait a minute! Abraham lived 430 years before the Mosaic Law existed! (Galatians 3:17) So Abraham was not under that law. So why would Paul mention Abraham’s works at all, if he was limiting “works of the law” to mean those of the Mosaic Law? It was because Paul was speaking of ALL works, and not just those ceremonial laws and rituals from Moses’ time.
Paul uses Abraham (4:1) as his first example of someone saved apart from works, and then he also uses David (4:6), who WAS under the Mosaic Law. So we see here that BOTH those who were under this Law (the Jews), and also those who were not under this Law (everyone else, including us today) were ALL saved by grace, through faith, and APART from their works. That is the whole point of Romans 3, 4, and 5.
So, we see that Paul's mention of Abraham and David in the same context refutes the idea that Paul alluded ONLY to the works of the old Mosaic Law. He was, in fact, speaking of ANYONE'S works throughout history, because he included:
1) Those BEFORE the Mosaic Law existed (like Abraham)
2) Those DURING the Mosaic Law (like David), and
3) Those AFTER the Mosaic Law (like the Christians to whom he is writing in the book of Romans).
CATHOLIC CLAIM – BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TEN COMMANDMENTS? JESUS WARNED US THAT WE MUST OBEY THEM, DIDN’T HE? (MATTHEW 19:17; LUKE 10:25-28) THESE ARE GOOD WORKS DONE UNDER GOD’S SYSTEM OF GRACE. THIS IS “FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE” (GALATIANS 5:6)
The Ten Commandments
We will demonstrate that the Ten Commandments are indeed part of "the Law.” Romans 7:7 (NASV) says, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’" Obviously, this refers to the last one of the Ten Commandments.
Now read Romans 2:20-22 (NASV). "...having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?…" Again, these works are clearly referring to the Ten Commandments.
So here we see that the Ten Commandments ARE part of "the Law". So when Scripture speaks of works of "the Law", it refers to the WHOLE Law: the ceremonial law AND the moral law. The apostle Paul places them in the SAME category. If one saves, then they both save. If one does not save, then neither saves. If "the Law" does not save (and it doesn’t), then the Ten Commandments don't save either, and if the Ten Commandments don't save, then NO WORKS CAN SAVE, since they are God's highest standard.
So, there is no biblical distinction between “works that save” and “works that don't save,” contrary to what Catholics often assert. Therefore, justification "apart from the works of the Law" (Romans 3:28) means justification apart from ANY and ALL works. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever do good works, it just means that our works don’t contribute to our justification.
Here is an interesting point. Romans 4:9-11 tells us that Abraham was NOT justified by his circumcision. But why not? After all, it was a God-ordained work of obedience, wasn’t it? (Genesis 17:10) It certainly was. But, the answer to this question is simply this: Abraham was not justified by circumcision, because circumcision is a WORK.
CATHOLIC CLAIM – BUT WEREN’T THE PEOPLE IN MATTHEW 25:31-46 SAVED OR CONDEMNED ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS, AND NOT THEIR FAITH? EVERY “JUDGMENT SCENE” IN THE BIBLE SHOWS US THAT THE FATE OF EACH PERSON IS DETERMINED BY HIS WORKS.
Sheep and Goats
Does anyone think that here, Jesus is providing a specific list of things to do to get saved? As a Catholic, one could not believe this, since things like faith, partaking of the Eucharist, baptism (and other sacraments), etc., are not mentioned here.
No, Jesus is speaking in a general sense, describing, on the one hand, the “sheep” as the type of people whose hearts were right, which then caused them to follow through with good works; and on the other hand, the “goats,” as those whose hearts were not right, and neglected God’s will.
The works mentioned here are not PREscribed (as criteria for salvation), but rather, they DEscribe (give a description of) the type of person in each category. The context is NOT how a person is made right with God. This whole chapter is about faithfulness, not justification. And the reason God points to their works in every “judgment scene” is because their works of obedience are the PROOF of their faithfulness, the evidence of what was already in their hearts, by faith. Wouldn’t these works in Matthew 25 be considered “works of righteousness”? Absolutely. But NO ONE is justified (in the “saving” sense) by works of righteousness (Titus 3:5)…
Remember, we WILL be rewarded for our good works, but justification is something totally different. It is strictly a GIFT. Again, it is not “works that save” versus “works that don’t save.” And neither are we justified by the works that God does THROUGH us, but only by the work that He has done on the cross. Nothing else.
See how great a love God has for His children! We DON’T have to try to gain enough “points” from our works and our sufferings to finally make it into Heaven. We must simply trust in His work at the cross. Let us rejoice in the simplicity of the gospel!
Stay with us as we conclude our series with the next post.