It is obtained by faith alone


We were once enemies of God in our mind by wicked works, because we all walked according to the lusts of the flesh; but when God manifested His love toward us, He justified us, that is to say, He made us righteous in His sight, by blotting out all our sins. And through justification we were reconciled to God and became His friends, as it is written: “His friendship is for the upright” (Proverbs 3:32 – Translated from the IBRV. The NIV reads: “He takes the upright into his confidence”). We have received this justification by faith, and therefore by grace and not by works. The following Scriptures confirm this very clearly.


● Paul says to the Romans: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1), and: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24), and again: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:8-9). The words ‘justified by his blood” mean that we are justified through faith in the blood of Christ, as it is written: “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25 – NIV). Again to the Romans, Paul says: “For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Please note the words “the gift of righteousness” because they show that the righteousness of God (that is, justification), being a gift of God, is obtained freely from God. It can be received only by faith in the Son of God; every personal merit, therefore, is excluded. Another passage of the epistle to the Romans which confirms that a man must believe in Christ in order to be justified is the following one which says: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4).


● Paul says to the Galatians: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of [in] Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of [in] Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16), and: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24), and again: “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” (Galatians 3:8 - and this is exactly what happened, because we were blessed by God through our faith in Christ, who is the Seed of Abraham). And again to the Galatians Paul says: “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:21-22 – NIV). And what was promised? The righteousness of God (that is, justification). To whom is the righteousness of God given? To those who do good works or to those who believe? To those who believe because the righteousness of God was promised to those who would believe in Jesus.


● “The just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk. 2:4 – NKJV); through these words, which were spoken by God to the prophet Habakkuk, God foretold that He will justify men by faith, as Paul says that God “will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Romans 3:30 – NKJV).


It cannot be obtained by good works


These other passages of the Scriptures, instead, state that those who rely on the works of the law cannot be justified and will not be justified in the sight of God.


● “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16)


● “A man is not justified by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16)


● “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. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11).


● “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).


To show you that a man is not justified by works but by faith alone, I remind you of the example of Abraham, our father. Now, according to the Scripture, Abraham was justified by God through his faith in the promise God made to him (Genesis 15:6), and he was justified after he had come out of Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 12:4) and after he had given a tithe of everything to Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God (Genesis 14:20). Therefore we say the following things:

Abraham was not justified by God because or when he obeyed God’s order: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Of course, in the epistle to the Hebrews it is written that “by faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8); however, the truth is that this act of obedience was not accounted to him for righteousness.

Abraham was not justified because or when he gave a tithe of everything to Melchizedek. Of course, he did a good thing that was appreciated by God (that tithe was received in heaven by He of whom it is witnessed that He lives), yet Abraham was not justified by God through that good work.

Abraham was justified by God because or when he believed the promise of God (according to which Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heaven), as it is written: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3; Genesis 15:6); that’s why Abraham also did not have anything to boast about before God.


There is another example of a man who was justified by God by grace through his faith, apart from the deeds of the law; it is the example of that tax collector who went up to the temple to pray. Jesus said about that man that he, “standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13 – NKJV). And since that man humbled himself before God, he was justified through his faith, as it is written: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified ….” (Luke 18:14 – NKJV). On the contrary, that Pharisee who said to God: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12), was not justified. Doesn’t this also confirm that a man is justified through faith by the grace of God apart from the deeds of the law? Of course, it does. Therefore, all those who teach that faith in God is not sufficient to be justified by God are greatly mistaken.


But why can’t justification be obtained by the deeds of the law? The reason why the righteousness of God cannot be obtained by the deeds of the law is that the law was given by God so that men might become conscious of sin (Romans 3:20; 7:7) and sin might abound (Romans 5:20), and not in order to make men righteous. God, in order to make men righteous, gave His only begotten Son, for it was through Jesus Christ that grace came and we were justified.


Now, we have seen that the Scripture declares that a man can’t be justified by the deeds of the law because the law is not able to justify the sinner; let’s look, therefore, closely at some of these works of the law which can’t justify those who do them. In the law it is written: “The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God” (Exodus 23:19); “Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother” (Deuteronomy 22:1); “And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD's release” (Deuteronomy 15:2); “When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow” (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). These are just some of the good works commanded by God in the law of Moses, for there are many others. They are all righteous deeds, yet a man cannot be justified by them. Isn’t the Scripture enough clear with regard to this? Of course, it is clear to us. However, the Scripture is not clear at all to those who teach that a man is justified by his good works. These people perish for they don’t know the Scriptures, for if they knew the Scriptures, they would not say such things. In Isaiah it is clearly written that all the righteous acts of men are “like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 - NKJV), therefore, it does not matter how many righteous works men may do in order to be justified before God, if they don’t repent and believe in the Gospel they will continue to be sinners before God because it is not through good works that a man is justified but through faith, as it is written: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10). ‘Too simple to be true!’, say those who think they are justified by works. It is certainly too simple to them and they don’t believe it is true, why? Because they are continually taught that a man is justified by sacrifices and their leaders hide this passage “but to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5) from them. Please note the words “to him that worketh not” because they mean ‘to him who doesn’t rely on righteous deeds for his salvation’. What else could we expect them to say, then? Let such people consider this: “if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21 - NKJV).


Explanation of the words of James about the value of good works


James, the Lord’s brother, wrote: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 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. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:21-24).

Let me expound these words of James. First of all, I say that James wrote these words to some believers and not to some unbelievers, for a short time before he wrote: “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (James 2:1. The NIV reads: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”). I have said this so that you may understand that those to whom those words were written had faith and thus they were already justified as it is written: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of [in] Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of [in] Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Why did James speak to them those words? Because some believers, even though they had faith, refused to do good works thinking that even without doing good works their faith would save them from the wrath of God, and in this way they were deceiving themselves. (Remember that those believers to whom James wrote killed, covet, quarrelled and fought, they were enemies of God because they wanted to be friends of the world, among them there were some who were rich but rode roughshod over the rights of the workmen who mowed their fields for they kept back by fraud their wages, some who honored the rich but dishonoured the poor man, and who grumbled against one another; therefore the hard words of James are absolutely understandable). So, James, first of all, rebuked them saying: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” (James 2:14), and: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” (James 2:20 - NIV), making it clear that faith alone would profit them nothing; and secondly he gave them the examples of Abraham and Rahab to confirm that the good deeds ought to accompany faith, so that faith may be of value. The argument of James is based on the fact that if anyone says that he has faith, that is, that he has believed in Christ Jesus, but he has no good deeds, his faith is of no value, or, as he says in another place, it is dead. The words of James are hard, but they make it clear that good works are very important to believers. Please, note that James did not say at all that righteousness is obtained by the deeds of the law or that a sinner is forgiven and receives eternal life by his good works; to interpret the words of James in that way is tantamount to saying that James had perverted the Gospel because he compelled the Gentiles to live as Jews so that they might be justified by the deeds of the law. On the contrary, the purpose of his argument is to keep every believer from thinking that he will please God and be saved even if he refuses to do good works. Therefore, if faith in God without good deeds is of no value, just as the ‘faith’ of demons (they simply believe there is one God) is of no value, we must conclude that the faith which is of value is that which has good works, which is confirmed by the apostle Paul when he says to the Galatians: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6 – NIV) and to the Corinthians: “Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Corinthians 7:19 – NIV). Let’s come back for a moment to the fact that James compared the faith without works to the faith of the demons, as it is written: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils [demons] also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19-20). The comparison made by James is really appropriate, because demons also believe that there is one God, besides, they know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Holy One of God and the Christ, for when Jesus was on earth they said to Him: “You are the Son of God’ (Mark 3:11 - NKJV), and: “I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24 – NKJV), and they knew that He was the Christ (Luke 4:41). Yet, not because the demons believe there is one God, or because they know that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God, this means that they will be saved from the everlasting fire; they certainly will not be saved from the eternal fire because according to the Word of God they know that one day they will be cast into the everlasting fire, where they will be tormented forever, for on one occasion the demons said to Jesus: “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29 - NKJV). That is the punishment which God will execute on them. So, a person who has believed in Christ can’t take the liberty of refusing to do good works, otherwise his faith is of no value, that is to say, it is dead.

Let’s come back to the good works: they are useful to keep our faith in the Lord alive, for if a believer ceases or refuses to do good works, his faith will certainly die and he will be like a lamp switched off, which is not able to give light, or a lamp whose light is concealed. James said: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26 – NKJV); what’s the use of a body without the spirit? It is no use, because it can’t speak, it can’t move, it can’t help anybody. What’s the use of faith without works? It is useless, because it doesn’t work anything on behalf of those who are in need; it is dead. Paul also spoke in a similar way when he said to the Romans: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die” (Romans 8:13). Therefore, the above mentioned words of James are confirmed by Paul also. For if a believer walks according to the flesh (thus, refusing to do good works) he will die spiritually, even though he says that he has faith, that he believes in God, that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and so on.

James gave the example of Abraham to explain that the patriarch was justified by his works and not by his faith alone. Now, in order to avoid misunderstandings we begin to say that according to what the Scripture states, when Abraham believed the promise God made to him his faith was accounted to him for righteousness, as it is written: “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Therefore, Abraham was forgiven through faith, that is, by grace. He was not justified by any meritorious works or good works, because he also was justified by God through faith. For Paul says that “if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (Romans 4:2 – NKJV) because the Scripture says that he believed God and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Therefore, Abraham had faith in God, but the patriarch showed his faith in God not only when he believed with his heart in the promise God made to him but also when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar in obedience to the command God gave to him. For you know that several years after Abraham had believed, God tested Abraham commanding him to go to the land of Moriah and offer his son Isaac there as a burnt offering on a mountain, and Abraham obeyed God, believing that God would raise him from the dead in order to fulfil the promise He had made (Hebrews 11:17-19). Therefore, Abraham believed that he would have his son back again through a resurrection, so he wouldn’t lose his son, because God had to keep the promise He had made to him. And because of his faith he pleased God, for when he was about to kill Isaac the angel of God said to him first: “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12), and then: “By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18). James says that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up his son, and this is true because Abraham, through that good work, showed that he feared God and firmly believed in His promise. Therefore, we can say that Abraham showed he had faith in God through facts, and because of this he was called God’s friend. Likewise, we who believe will be called friends of Christ if we do what Christ commands us to do, as Jesus said: “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). But if we say that we believe in Christ Jesus, yet we refuse to keep His words, how will we be able to show that we believe in Him? And how can we expect to be called friends of Christ and of God? We will be exactly like many people of this world who say that they are Christians, they say that they believe in Jesus, but, since they are disqualified for every good work, they show that they don’t believe in Him. Therefore, just as the faith of Abraham was made complete by his works (James 2:22), so our faith also will be made complete by our good works. The apostle Peter explains this concept in his second epistle in this way: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-11). Please, pay attention to the following words “if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” for they confirm that by our good works (for we manifest godliness, brotherly kindness and charity, by doing good works) our faith will be made complete. Let’s reflect upon this: why does a believer feel he must do good works? Of course, he is sure he has been forgiven by the Lord, he is sure he is a child of God, he is sure he has eternal life; yet, in him there is the desire to do good works in order to make his election sure, because he feels that he can’t make his election sure only by saying that he believes without doing good works on behalf of the saints to the glory of God. Furthermore, we must always bear in mind that good works induce our neighbour (who sees us doing them) to glorify God, for Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Therefore, they are a way through which we honour God and His doctrine. On the contrary, if we refuse to do good works our neighbour will be induced to blame the name of God and His doctrine, as it is written: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24 – NKJV).

In conclusion I say this: faith needs good works in order to be made complete, but this doesn’t mean that faith is not sufficient in order to be justified because the Scripture affirms that “a man is not justified by the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). Far be it from us to behave like the Galatians who, having begun in the Spirit, wanted to be made perfect by the flesh; who, after accepting Christ, were alienated from Christ because they were trying to be justified by the law (Galatians 5:4), and their behaviour made Paul angry and worried him, and because of their behaviour Paul admonished them severely and told them that he labored in birth for them again until Christ was formed in them (Galatians 4:19). Take heed to yourselves, brethren, and bear in mind always that if we try to be justified by good works we will insult Christ because we will set aside His atoning sacrifice. Be zealous for good works, but don’t think that they can add something to the merits of Christ.