Q: Is justification “By Works” or “Not by Works”?
A: According to scripture it’s actually both, but we have to understand why and how.
Here are some verses that will begin to explain what I’m talking about:
Not By Works:
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.”
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?”
In Romans 4:2 it says Abraham was not justified by works while James 2:21 says that he was. Is there a contradiction in the Bible? No, and if there ever seems to be one then it is that we don’t yet understand what being said. God wants us to search out and to find the true treasures He’s hidden for us. It’s worth our time and effort because it helps us more than words alone could describe, but here’s some examples.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. ”
There are no errors or contradictions in God’s Holy word:
“Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him.”
“The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seventimes. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
Why is it that we’re not justified (forgiven) by any works? It’s because the works in and of themselves without Jesus Christ could never pay the penalty we owe because we sinned.
“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”
“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.”
That means no amount of keeping any law after we sinned could ever save us or erase that sin. Only the blood of the Everlasting Covenant could / can do that, that’s the blood of Jesus Christ. But in order to receive that free gift, which we could never earn or provide, we must enter into covenant with God and begin keeping the terms of the covenant established by God, not man. We must believe God, not man-made doctrines.
There were man-made doctrines in Jesus’ day and He warned us about invalidating the word of God by believing and obeying men instead of Him. By not believing the LORD and by departing from the intent of His laws they added to it and they distorted and corrupted God’s word – their spiritual food. They became so blinded by the traditions of men that they lost wisdom and understanding. Because they failed to continue to acknowledge the truth of scripture, they didn’t recognize their Messiah when He came to them.
“He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
The mindset of those man-made doctrines included the belief that just doing the law, without faith in their coming Messiah, would bring their justification (forgiveness of sin).
“Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone”
But even the apostle Paul, who was a Jew, said and recalled from the Old Testament that without faith it’s impossible to please God and that every believer even under the Old Covenant knew that the just (the forgiven) had that life given back to them “by faith”.
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
Paul was referring to this Old Testament scripture:
“Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live BY his FAITH.”
Down below, Paul is further explaining / revealing the truth about saving faith as it was given from the beginning with Adam and Eve; because look when he says “no flesh” has ever been justified by the works of the law without faith, that would include everyone from the creation. Salvation “by faith” in Jesus Christ has always been part of the Everlasting Covenant. The blood of Jesus is called “the blood of the Everlasting Covenant” and He is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”.
“WE WHO ARE Jews by nature,
and not sinners of the Gentiles,
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.”
So how are we biblically justified by the works that we do; not the works of man-made doctrines, or ones we make up ourselves, but only speaking of the actions of obedience to God’s laws alone?
Although we do them and He gives us credit for them as being our own; they are really His because He established those works for us to do and we are only cooperating with His will and His Holy Spirit that is in us.
“For we are His workmanship, created inChrist Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
2Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be GOOD or BAD.
We are supposed to obey and keep God’s covenant because God established our inheritance of eternal salvation based upon the terms and conditions of His covenant; and it’s through this covenant alone that we are able to receive the blood of Jesus Christ; no part can be left undone. Partial obedience is disobedience and without faith in Jesus we can’t inherit eternal life.
Still, our eternal reward is reckoned of grace.
A man who works in his own strength is owed something for his labor, someone is indebted to pay him in exchange for his work.
When we believe and obey God we have saving faith which will be rewarded by God by His grace with the free gift of eternal life, not because God owes it to us, but because of His mercy and grace He gives us this promise of His covenant of salvation. No matter how much work we could do, we could never earn that free gift or “be owed” that free gift because it took the blood of Jesus to pay our sin debt – we never had what it took to save ourselves. On the flip side if we continue to live in sin without returning to God in confession and repentance, then we won’t inherit eternal life either (1Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21).
James 2:20, 26
“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
So just as faith without works (obedience) is dead, I believe also works without faith is dead too. They are both required.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins,”
-> God’s grace is found in the unmerited favor He first shows us by calling us to Him while we are dead in our sins.
(Ephesians 2:4-10 continued)
“hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”
–> God’s grace is found in offering us the free gift of the blood of Jesus we could never produce or provide for ourselves.
(Ephesians 2:4-10 continued)
“And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us THROUGH Christ Jesus.
For by grace are ye saved THROUGH faith;
and that not of yourselves:
it is the gift of God:
—> It’s not of ourselves because 1.) there’s nothing we could do to earn it or provide it for ourselves, 2.) it’s God’s will for us to DO His will 3.) God established these works and commanded us to obey Him, making all of these things OF God and not of ourselves.
(Ephesians 2:4-10 continued)
“Not of works, lest any man should boast. FOR we are His workmanship, CREATED IN Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
—-> Not of works means not of our own works without Him as it goes on to clarify “created in Christ” and “we are His workmanship”. We can’t boast of our own works because we are cooperating with His power and His will to do these works that He has required us to do in the keeping His covenant of salvation.