Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 22, 1961
NUMBER 8, PAGE 1,8-9,13a

Paul's Teaching On Justification By Faith

L. A. Mott, Las Vegas, Nevada

The controversy between the Lord's church and the Protestant denominations is not over whether man is justified by faith. In this we are agreed. The point of disagreement concerns the nature of saving faith. In the following, I propose to present just one phase of the subject. But the teaching of Paul involves by no means an insignificant part of the discussion, for it is regarded by Protestants as a stronghold of their "faith only" theory. However, as we shall see, Paul turns out to be, not their stronghold, but the powerful invading force of the Lord which devastates the flimsy fortress of their false doctrine. The only real support for the theory is found in such "authoritative" statements as that of the ninth article of religion of the Discipline of the Methodist Church.

It was largely through a study of Paul's writings that Martin Luther was led away from the Catholic error concerning meritorious works. But having fled from Rome, Luther landed in Babylon, far beyond Jerusalem. His first thinking on the subject of faith led him to the conclusion that a conflict existed between Paul and James. Consequently, he came to regard James as an "epistle of straw."

My conviction is that Paul and James are in perfect harmony. The following study of Paul's teaching will convince every unbiased mind that the teaching of Paul on the nature of saving faith and the relation of works to salvation, and that of James are perfectly harmonious in every point.

The material to be presented in this argument covers all the apostle Paul taught on the subject of saving faith in principle, although, obviously, not every single verse can be quoted. Paul spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Hence, what he taught was the truth of God. His teaching being true, we can expect it to be consistent in every detail. Therefore, when he says in one place that we are justified by faith; and in another, that we are made free from sin by obedience, there is no contradiction. One principle does not exclude the other. Each must be interpreted in the light of the other.

Sermon In Acts

In Antioch of Pisidia, Paul preached, "Be it known unto you therefore, brethren, that through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins: and by him every one that believeth is justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38-39) Now the question here is: Does "believeth" mean simply the act of the heart in faith only, or does it mean an obedient faith? Repentance is not mentioned. Is it not necessary? Does "believeth" include repentance? Surely, it does, as all will admit. But if it can include one thing which is not even mentioned, why cannot it include other steps of obedience? We shall see that it does. This doctrine of justification by faith is expounded more thoroughly in Romans and Galatians. Hence, most of our attention will be given to these letters.

Paul's answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?," as propounded by the Philippian jailor, was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house." (Acts 16:30-31) But what was the nature of this faith? It remains for us to find the answer to this question in the further unfolding of the doctrine in the epistles of Paul. Note that the jailor was baptized. (v. 33) What was the purpose of baptism? Read Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27; 1 Pet. 3:21, and then remember that what was accomplished in baptism in any one case, was also accomplished in all other cases. God is no respecter of persons. He saves all on the same terms. Note also that the jailor was said to "rejoice" only after his obedience, (v. 34) for it was then that his faith was made perfect. (Jas.2:22)

Among the statements of Paul, these two passages are the strongholds of the "faith only" people in Acts. To quote other verses would not add strength to their case. But now, Paul must interpret Paul. What he said in other places must be used to explain what he meant in Acts 13:39 and 16:31.

The Epistle To The Romans

One of the passages most commonly used by advocates of the "faith only" theory is Rom. 3:19-30. Paul states that "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight." (v. 20) Rather, men must be justified through faith. (vv. 21-26) Paul concludes his line of reasoning in v. 28: "We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."

To what sort of "works" does Paul have reference? Does this term include all works? If so, Paul contradicts James. (2:24) I am unwilling to accept this conclusion.

Paul is setting two systems of justification as opposed one to the other: justification by works of law, and justification by faith. The only way anyone could be justified by works of law would be to keep the law perfectly, to fulfill it in every detail with no error whatsoever. This is the point of such passages as Rom. 2:13; 10:5; Gal. 3:10-12; and Jas. 2:10. Once an individual broke the law he could no longer be justified thereby, for the law contains no provision for forgiving sin. It makes sin known, (Rom. 3:20; cf. 7:7-8) brings men under condemnation, (3:19) and shows sin to be exceeding sinful, (7:13) but it cannot forgive sin.

Paul has just finished establishing the point that not one single soul has met the law's demands; all have sinned. (3:9-18) Verse 20 states the conclusion: Since no one has met the law's demands, no one is justified by works of law. The "works" involved, clearly, are a perfect keeping of the law.

But then he points out that God has made it possible for all men to be saved on the condition of faith. (vv. 21-30) The nature of this faith we shall define later.

Does "works" include acceptance of the gospel by obedience to God's appointed conditions of salvation, such, for example, as baptism? Assuredly not! Paul states that no man can boast because we are not saved by works of law, but by faith. (v. 27) Again, he states, "For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath whereof to glory." (4:2)

Such works are meant as would give man a ground for boasting. Perfect obedience would do this. But who is ready to take the absurd position that baptism is included in this class of works? Who ever boasted about being baptized? No intelligent, responsible person would, and if a person is not intelligent and responsible, he has nothing to worry about anyway. God will take care of him.

In Rom. 4, Abraham is adduced as an example of this justification by faith without works of law. Then in 5:1, this conclusion is reached, "Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

To this point: (1) We have established the point that men are justified by faith. (2) They are not justified by works of law. (3) We have seen that baptism is not included in these works. To contend that baptism is necessary to salvation would not contradict Paul's statements about works. (4) We do not as yet have enough of Paul's teaching before us to determine just what is the precise nature of this saving faith. It is to this point that we now turn our attention.

One thing involved in justification is the forgiveness of sins, or freedom from sin. Rom. 4:5-8 proves this beyond a doubt. Paul has stated that the Romans were justified by faith. (5:1) But when we come to chapter 6, we learn just at what point these people who were justified by faith were made free from sin. In verses 17-18 we read, "But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness." Note the following: (1) They were servants of sin. (2) But they became servants of righteousness. (3) The point at which they ceased to be servants of sin — were made free from sin — was when they obeyed the form of teaching.

The "obedience" mentioned is more specifically described in verses 1-7. Paul states that we are not to continue living in sin, for we have died to sin. (vv. 1-2) Sin is viewed here and throughout the chapter, not so much in terms of acts which are committed, but as a person, a master which is served. This personification of sin occurs also in other places. Compare Jno. 8:34 where Jesus said, "Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin."

But Paul's point is that we are no longer under the dominion of this old master, and should serve him no longer, for we have died to sin. More is said about this as we continue reading.

As Paul continues to develop his argument, he shows that we symbolically die with Christ. Thus we die to sin. The point at which we die with Christ is baptism: "Or are you ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life." (vv. 3-4) What does it mean to be baptized into the death of Christ? It means to unite with him in his death and die with him: "For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin." (vv. 5-6) Note the following: (1) We are baptized into the death of Christ, and are thus "united with him in the likeness of his death." (v. 5) Instead of "united," the King James Version has "planted together." The Greek word is sumphutos. It comes from sumphuo, meaning to make to grow together, and means planted or grown along with, united with (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. III, pp. 187-188; Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 587598, gives the same). Albert Barnes gives the following explanation: "It properly means sown or planted at the same time; that which sprouts or springs up together; and is applied to plants and trees that are planted at the same time, and that sprout and grow together. Thus the name would be given to a field of grain that was sown at the same time, and where the grain sprung up and grew simultaneously. Hence it means intimately connected, or joined together. And here it denotes that Christians and the Saviour have been united intimately in regard to death; as he died and was laid in the grave, so have they by profession died to sin." (From his commentary on Romans, p. 149)

(2) Being thus united with him in the likeness of his death, our old man of sin is crucified — put to death — with him. (v. 6) (3) This is done "that the body of sin might be done away" (v. 6), and (4) "that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin." (v. 6)

Then in v. 7 Paul writes, "....for he that hath died is justified from sin." The footnote gives "released" from sin. The KJV has "freed" from sin. The Greek verb is dikaioo which means to declare or pronounce one to be just or righteous. (Thayer, pp. 148-151) The fundamental idea is that of an "acquittal." When the defendant is acquitted, he is freed, or released. This is the idea here.

In the days of slavery, as long as a slave was alive he was obligated to serve and remain loyal to his master. But when he died this relationship ended.

The application Paul makes is that man is a slave of sin. As long as he is alive to sin he serves sin. But when he dies to sin he is freed from this old master. As has been noted previously, we die to sin when we unite with Christ in the likeness of his death, and are crucified with him. (vv. 5-6) This takes place in 'baptism. (vv. 3-4)

The argument may be stated as follows: (1) We are made free from sin when we die to sin. (2) We die to sin when we are baptized into the death of Christ. (3) Therefore, we are made free from sin at the point of baptism.

Nobody is denying that we are justified by faith. I believe that. But the question is, are we justified the moment we conceive faith in our hearts, or after faith has been expressed in the external act of baptism? The latter view is correct, the apostle Paul himself being the judge.

But sectarian preachers have long argued that the salvation contemplated in Rom. 6 is figurative. It is true that some elements of this passage are symbolical. For instance, nobody is fool enough to think that when we are baptized we are actually and literally nailed to the cross of Christ. We are united with him in the "likeness" of his death. (v.5) This is the symbolical part of the passage. The salvation is literal and cannot be proved otherwise. When we symbolically unite with Christ in his death, we actually and literally die to sin. (vv. 5-7)

The Epistle To The Galatians

Our discussion of Paul's teaching in Galatians will not have to be so extended as the previous one, for in Galatians, much of the same ground is traversed that was covered in Romans. The evidence, however, is not less devastating to the "faith only" position in Galatians, than we saw it to be in Romans.

Again, in Galatians, Paul discusses freedom from the law and justification by faith in Christ. In 2:15-16, he wrote, "We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and. not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."

But now the issue we are discussing involves the nature of this faith. The question is: When are we justified by faith? The answer to this question is given in two places in Galatians.

(1) First, let me call your attention to chapter 3, verses 26-27: "For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ." First, note that we are sons of God in Christ. This is the relationship in which we are God's sons. The condition of sonship is faith. But at what point did we become sons of God in Christ by faith? How came we to be such? The Greek word gar, translated "for" at the beginning of v. 27, is a conjunction which "adduces the Cause or gives the Reason of a preceding statement or opinion." (Thayer, p. 109) In our text it gives the reason for what is said in v. 26. We are sons of God in Christ on the condition of faith. The reason is: " many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ." It follows that one who has not been baptized into Christ is not a child of God. We become sons of God by faith, not the moment faith is conceived in our hearts, but when faith is expressed in the external act of baptism.

(2) In 5:6 Paul defines the nature of true saving faith: "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. (KJV) What does Paul mean when he uses the term "faith" in Romans and Galatians, as well as other places? Here he tells us. The faith which avails in Christianity "worketh by love." Thus, Thayer is correct when he testifies that although "believe (pisteuo) sometimes denotes the mere acknowledgment of God's existence, yet when it is used of saving faith, or the "faith by which a man embraces Jesus," it means "a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah — the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ" (pp. 511-512; emphasis mine, LAM)

Ephesians 2:8-9

These two verses read: "....for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory." This is one of the passages most often relied on by advocates of "faith only." They make two points: (1) "Faith" means faith only, or faith without further acts of obedience. (2) "Not of works" includes baptism, and all other acts of obedience.

For the meaning of "not of works," read again the discussion of Rom. 3. This expression cannot possibly include baptism. It refers to works of which a man would boast. Who Would boast of being baptized? Furthermore, that it does not include all classes of works is proved by two additional points: (1) To contend that "works" includes all kinds of works, even simple acts of obedience, is to force a contradiction between Paul and James' plain statement. (2:24) (2) It would mean that "faith" would be included too, for in some sense of the word faith is a work. (Jno. 6:29)

As for the former assertion, I am prepared to prove that the very contrary is true, e. g., that the faith mentioned here actually includes baptism.

Remembering that this letter was written to Ephesus, turn now to Acts 19 and begin reading at verse 1: "And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples: and he said unto them, Did ye receive the Holy Spirit when ye believed? And they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Spirit was given. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized?" The question is: How did Paul know that they had been baptized at all? He knew that they they had believed. (v. 2) But how did he know that they had been baptized? The only reasonable answer is that their believing included baptism. Thus once again the point is proved: The faitih of Eph. 2:8-9 is that which works by love; it includes baptism.

Titus 3:4-7

"But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

It is strange indeed that the "faith only" people would appeal to these verses to support their theory, for, clearly, no passage is more against them than this one.

Practically the unanimous consent of the scholars is to the effect that the "washing of regeneration" (v. 5) refers to baptism in water (cf. J. W. Shepherd's collection of quotations on Tit. 3:5 in his Handbook on Baptism, pp. 404-411). Indeed, what other reference could it have in connection with the Christian religion? I shall regard it as a proven fact. Jno. 3:5; Acts 22:16; Eph. 5:26; and Heb. 10:22 serve to confirm this position.

Paul argues that we are not saved by our own works of righteousness, but through the "washing of regeneration," of baptism, and the "renewing of the Holy Spirit." Baptism is set in opposition to the works of righteousness which are excluded as far as our salvation is concerned. Away then forever with the idea of including baptism among the works denounced by Paul in Romans, Galatians, and Ep. 21


In drawing this investigation to a close, let us review what has been accomplished: We have first studied those passages in which Paul states the doctrine of salvation by faith. Taking these at face value, we then turned to other places where Paul gives a fuller and more precise explanation of the nature of this faith. We have simply allowed Paul to explain what he means by saving faith.

The conclusion to which we have come may be stated as follows: It is clear that Paul, in perfect harmony with James, regarded faith without works as dead. The only kind of faith that avails is that which "worketh by love." Beyond a doubt, this is the truth of God.