Justification by Faith Alone

by Stan Mitchell
Martin Luther wrote volumes on the subject of “Justification by faith alone.” It was clear to him that salvation could not be attained by keeping all the demands made by the church of his day.
Many church leaders today are enamored with the idea of “Justification by faith alone,” too. They pour over the writings of the Apostle Paul, developing and refining their understanding of God’s grace and mercy.
Yet Paul never used the phrase.
Not in Romans, his great treatise on grace, not in Ephesians, nor Colossians.
Paul simply never used the term.
But James did.
“You see that a person is justified by what he does, and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).
So James uses the phrase “justified … by faith alone.” But it should be noted that he uses the term in order to refute, not support the concept.
You know the passage. It is the one where he depicts the devils (a little humorously) as “believing (God) and trembling” (2:24). Have you felt the ground under you tremble lately? Maybe it’s the little red-suited guys trembling in their boots!
James says, very clearly, that our salvation is not a matter of faith alone. Neither is it of works alone. Neither James nor Paul ever claimed that it was. The dilemma between faith and works was Luther’s, and ours, not scripture’s, and scripture, not theologians, should shape our theology.
“What good is it,” James asks, “if a man has faith, but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (2:14).
The answer, clearly, is “No”. We are indebted to Luther for his courage in standing up to the religious corruption of his day, but we are indebted to scripture alone for our understanding of God’s will.
In Luther’s own words, we should be bound by sola scriptura (scripture alone), and not sola fide (faith alone).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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