We previously shared a three-part article on the topic of “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone), but we now want to focus specifically on one aspect of that topic in Romans chapter 3, 4 & 5. In Romans 3:28 the apostle Paul says that we are justified by faith “apart from works of the law.” The question is, exactly what works was Paul talking about? Many (if not most) Catholics would argue that he is here referring to ONLY the works of the Jewish / Mosaic Law. But we believe he was saying apart from any and all good works.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume for now that the verse is only about the Jewish Law. Ok, but what was Paul’s reason for saying that we’re saved “apart” from its works? Was something wrong with the Jewish Law? Are the oracles of God (Romans 3:2) somehow defective? Not at all, remember, salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22). If any works were able to save, surely it would be those of the God-given Jewish Law.
So, it is understandable that the people in the Old Testament and in Paul’s day would think that following the works of the Mosaic Law could save them. After all, wasn’t this law the very highest law around? Indeed it was. It was God’s standard of morality.
But the problem is not the Law. No, the problem is with US! The purpose of the Law was to act as a “tutor,” to show us that we are not able to follow God perfectly, and to show us that we could only be saved by faith / trusting in Christ (Galatians 3:24). The Law was “weak” (Romans 8:3), but not because of some inherent flaw; it was only weak because of man’s sinful heart. Therefore, salvation has always had to be by grace through faith, and never by good works… not even the works of the Jewish Law… which includes the Ten Commandments (Romans 7:7).
But according to Catholics, the Old Testament “works of the Law” (which don’t save) were replaced with works of the “New Law,” “works of grace” and “charitable acts” (which supposedly do save, or at least, contribute to salvation). But were there no “charitable acts” in the Jewish Law? Indeed, there were. Wouldn’t Jesus’ summary of the Jewish Law cover every good work or “work of grace” that we could possibly think of? It certainly would. He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself… On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40). Sounds to me like that would cover every possible work. In fact, there is no good work (of the Old or New Testament) that won’t pertain to one of these two commandments. This Catholic distinction of “New Testament works that save” versus “Old Testament works that don’t save” is a false one.
We are saved by faith APART FROM works, whether it is the “ceremonial works of the Mosaic Law,” the Ten Commandments, “works of grace,” “works of charity,” or any “new” works – it is apart from ALL works. Does this mean we should avoid good works? Of course not. As Dr. Joe Mizzi says, salvation is by faith, apart from the merit of works, but not apart from the presence of works.
What evidence is there in Romans chapters 3-5 that would lead a person to believe that there are any works at all which save us? If Catholics are right, it certainly seems strange that Paul would never list the “works that save” in the context in which the doctrine of justification is defined. If these “saving works” exist at all, Paul would be seriously lacking as a teacher if he mentions none of them when he’s teaching us how to be saved! Where is baptism, or giving to the poor, or helping your neighbor, etc., in the context of Romans 3 thru 5? Over and over in this context, he only mentions faith as that which saves.
Catholics sometimes argue against Sola Fide by saying that Romans 3-5 does not use the words “faith alone.” That may be true, but we can use this same type of argument against them and say that Romans 3-5 doesn’t use the words “apart from only the Jewish Law,” either.
In denying salvation by deeds, sometimes Paul just uses the word “works” (as opposed to “works of the law”), e.g., in Romans 4:2, Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Timothy 1:9, and Titus 3:5. But notice that the contexts of these last three are NOT about Jewish law at all. So the Catholic argument fails completely here.
Only Two Options…
Romans 4:4 - Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due.
Romans 4:5 - But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. (NASB)
Notice that this passage offers only two choices: the one who works, and the one who believes (without working); one trusts in the merits of his work, and the other trusts only in the suffering of Jesus on the cross. There is no third choice and no distinction between “types of works” here.
Galatians 3:2 - This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (NASB)
Notice here also that Paul, when asking this question, does not give the Galatians a third option. They were saved either by works of the Law, or by faith. Again, only two choices. It is one or the other. He doesn’t add the merits of baptism or any “new” works to their faith as a third choice. This indicates that any and all works would fall into the “works of the Law” category. All that’s left is faith alone (i.e., apart from the merits of any work).
Some may still insist that there is a third option… the “Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). No, the concept of salvation by faith apart from works IS the Law of Christ. It is a law that freely saves the undeserving sinner and then gives him the desire and ability to do works that are pleasing to God.
In conclusion, consider the example of Abraham. Not only was Abraham not saved by the works of the Mosaic Law, but according to Romans 4:2, he was not saved by any of his works. Likewise, for David, it was “apart from works” (Romans 4:6). And the same goes for Gentiles, since God is the God of both Jew and Gentile, alike (Romans 3:29), saving both by faith, apart from their respective works.
So, once more, when the context of Romans 3, 4 and 5 says that we are saved “apart from” the works of the law, it is NOT just referring to those of the Mosaic Law, but every work. And the good works we do, we do out of love for God… not to try and earn / merit salvation.