Sunday, August 1, 2010


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.

Let’s Suppose…
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.

The Problem
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).

New Works?
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.

The Context
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…

Consider this:

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.


  1. Hi Russ,

    Long time no post.

    Based on what you've said here, you haven't read my newest post on Justification, where I examine your thesis and show it to be seriously flawed:

  2. Sola Fide, Can It Work?

    Many protestant sects teach that all that is needed for salvation of their souls is Faith Only...

    Sola Fide, saved by faith alone.

    All they need is to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savoir and no matter what they do after; they are assured they will go straight to heaven.

    Jesus Christ paid the price for all sins, past, present, and future. Jesus Christ took the test for us all and gave each of us a grade of 100%.

    Now doesn't that sound good? Just think, you can do anything you want for the rest of your life and your irrevocable ticket to heaven was paid for with the blood of Christ almost 2000 years ago. What a gift! What a great blessing! What nonsense!!!


  3. Hello Michael,

    Thanks for writing.

    First, I want to say that I don’t believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved.” A person does not have to believe in OSAS to believe in “Faith Alone.”

    Second, I do believe that we should certainly do good works. The article you posted by Mr. Stanley seems to say that adherents of Sola Fide want nothing to do with good works. But that is not true. Yes, we are to do good works. God definitely wants us to do them, but these good works do not save us, as I believe is amply demonstrated in the three-part article (“Faith Alone”) elsewhere on my blog. I also believe that the great majority of Mr. Stanley’s points are also answered in those articles.

    Thanks again, Michael, for your response, and if you have any further comments, please feel free to write back.

    1. Sin is breaking the Law of God (1 John 3:4). Jesus bore our sins in his body (1 Pet. 2:24) and made a legal (Lawful, according to scripture) atoning sacrifice (John 19:30) where he cancelled our sin debt (Col. 2:14). So if every single sin and sin debt you've ever committed has been canceled, then how is it possible for you to lose your salvation since there are no sins left that can be held against you?

    2. Anonymous,

      So, do you think that you can now sin with impunity, that you can sin all you want without consequences?

      Then what is the purpose of sanctification? What is the purpose of all those verses that tell Christians not to sin? Or are all these just empty threats from God's Word?

    3. No. If very single sin and sin debt you've ever committed has been canceled, then how is it possible for you to lose your salvation since there are no sins left that can be held against you?

    4. Anonymous,

      To answer your questions, this is what the apostle Peter said:

      “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning,

      For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.

      But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”

      Now, please answer my questions that I asked you just above:

      So, do you think that you can now sin with impunity, that you can sin all you want without consequences?

      Then what is the purpose of sanctification? What is the purpose of all those verses that tell Christians not to sin? Or are all these just empty threats from God's Word?

  4. First, I want to say that I don’t believe in “Once Saved, Always Saved.” A person does not have to believe in OSAS to believe in “Faith Alone.”

    Would you explain what you mean by this to me? Do you mean that a person can lose their salvation?


  5. Hello Borntwice,

    Thanks for your question.

    Yes, I believe that the Bible is clear with multiple warnings to CHRISTIANS to guard what God has entrusted to them, to maintain their faith, to continue in the faith, etc. Why would we have to “guard,” “maintain,” or “continue” in something if we can’t lose it? There are far too many passages like these in Scripture to ignore. So, yes, one can lose (perhaps a better term is “walk away from”) his salvation.

    Although, I think it is not “easy” to lose one’s salvation (God is so gracious), it is still possible. I think it usually happens gradually. The enemy slowly draws one away from God until the person has eventually rejected God’s blessings. A gradual hardening occurs on the person’s part until he doesn’t care any more. But we must always be ready and quick to repent.

    Thank God for His patience and His love, and for giving His Son to do that unfathomable work on the cross. It is this work on the cross (and not any of our own works) that we must trust in for our salvation.

  6. Russell,

    Am I reading you correctly: You believe that a Christian can lose his salvation?

    If so, then you'd be being faithful to the clear testimony of Scripture on this subject, but not to Calvinism.

    Further, it would put a huge dent in any Sola Scriptura apologetics of yours since Protestantism is strongly divided on whether or not a believer can lose salvation.

  7. Nick,

    “Further, it would put a huge dent in any Sola Scriptura apologetics of yours since Protestantism is strongly divided on whether or not a believer can lose salvation.”

    See the article, “Sola Scriptura and Divisions” elsewhere on this blog:

  8. I was more focused on the Calvinism aspect than the Sola Scriptura aspect (though that's important too).

    If you believe salvation can be lost, you've rejected Calvinism, and embraced an open contradiction in theology (e.g. if Jesus took the punishment you deserved, and yet you can lose salvation, then either Jesus didn't take that punishment you deserved or God is punishing the same sin twice).

    I'm glad that you're on the Biblical side of this equation though, because the doctrine of Eternal Security is one of the most dangerous heresies today.

    1. Nick

      Are you also a dangerous heretic (Galatians 1:8-9)???

  9. Hello Russell,

    Great post, as usual!

    If you are at all interested in having more information on the subject of salvation and atonement, then you should check out my article that I have just published on my website:

    I have a question regarding a statement that Nick directed to you in the dialogue above (his last post on this article). If you were to keep the conversation going with Catholic Nick, then how would you have addressed his claim to you embracing an internal contradiction in your theology?

  10. Hey Jessie,

    It’s only a contradiction if you’re a Calvinist. I’m not. Nick claimed that he was emphasizing that aspect of it, but that’s not at all where I was coming from.

    Anyway, I plan to view your article soon!

    1. There are a few reasons why I would say the "loss of faith" angle is still problematic:

      (1) I don't think the Bible speaks of people sinning gravely as always having lost faith. In fact, the Council of Trent quotes Revelation 21:8 which lists "unbelief" as ONE of MULTIPLE sins that can lead to hell. This means that a person can have faith and still commit these other damnable sins. Also, I don't think David is said to have lost his faith when he sinned gravely. Even in our every day experience, we still believe Jesus is our Savior even when we sin. I'm sure when people get very tempted and fall into sin, it's not that they don't believe in Jesus, it's that the temptation has overcome them.

      (2) Losing faith is a MUCH MORE serious matter than mortal sin, because while in mortal sin a Christian still believes in Jesus' mercy to forgive that sin. To lose faith means you no longer believe in God, the Gospel, etc. To recover faith is much more difficult than recovering the sanctifying grace lost by mortal sin. There is no straightforward way to recover faith, especially if you no longer see the need for it, and I don't see Scripture speak much in this regard. When someone loses faith in the Bible, it's akin to counting them as completely lost.

      (3) You seem to be suggesting that losing faith takes place alongside mortal sins, almost as if the sin itself isn't what is causing the lost faith and as if they aren't even connected. As if faith is lost before the sin is committed or as if faith just so happens to get lost while the sin is being committed. Neither of those make any sense.

      (4) To be able to lose salvation undermines the notion of JBFA regardless of whether it's lost faith or evil works. That's because it's still upon you, how you act, that determines whether you're saved in the end. You're not secure. You're not resting on Jesus' so called "finished work".

    2. Anonymous,

      Please forgive me, maybe I’m dense, but I really don’t understand your overall point. Is it about my “Calvinist” comment? Could you summarize your issue with my arguments into one thought? Maybe then, I could see your point.


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  12. Hello Jessie,

    Thanks for the link to your article.

    You did a great job and it exposes another false doctrine that many in the church today are falling victim to.

    This is just another attempt by the “works salvation” people to undermine the work of the Savior.

    Keep up the good work!


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    3. Anonymous,

      I read the article to which you linked and I’ll just say that it was the ANIMAL that paid the price WITH HIS LIFE. The sin offerer merely purchased the animal. Nick (the author of the article) is making it sound like the sinner was somehow, himself, actually paying the price for his sin, or perhaps somehow “earning” his way to forgiveness. And that can never be.

      But I do agree with Nick when he says that that Old Testament system was only a temporary fix. This O.T. system simply pointed to the true future Sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

      Again, saying that the one who offers the sacrifice is paying the price is undermining the magnitude of the work of the Savior. And that’s not a safe place to be. Actually, that’s blasphemy.

    4. Anonymous,

      Try these:

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  14. Russell,

    No, you misrepresent the teachings of my Church. See this article for more details:

  15. Tim,

    The link you sent claims that Protestants use a straw man argument concerning Catholic justification. The author of the article (Nick) explains that Catholics don’t believe that one starts off “a little bit righteous” and then “works his way up to fully righteous.” Nick claims that “a Catholic is instantly 100% Justified the moment they convert.”

    If that is true, then what is the Council of Trent talking about when it mentions an “increase” of justification (Session 6, Chapter 10 and Canon 24 and 32)?

    Nick also states that there “isn’t really such a thing as ‘initial justification.’” I would certainly agree, but Nick is contradicting many popular Catholic apologists out there. So, his (and your) argument is not with me, but with them.

  16. Hello Russell,

    I agree completely with your response to Tim. I really do find it bizarre how Catholic Nick claims that the concept of "initial justification" does not really exist. So many Catholic professionals seem to indicate otherwise. This only reveals the hypocrisy of Catholics who lay the accusation of us being our "own popes".

    1. Well said, Jesse!

      Who said that there are no divisions in the Catholic Church?