Chapter 11.2, Part Two
March 28, 2013
ii. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.
One of the familiar complaints against justification through faith alone is that it makes no allowance for the necessity of works. In one sense this is true, since the Confession teaches that justification is by faith apart from works, the sinner relying on Christ's works instead of his or her own. In another, sense, however, the Confession is keen to join faith and works. As the divines taught it, it is true that justification does not involve our works. But it is also true that faith is inseparable from works. We are justified through faith alone, yet that faith "is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces." Roman Catholicism teaches that faith + works = justification. The Confession teaches instead, with the Bible, that faith = justification + works. Through faith alone the sinner is justified, so that our works are not a condition of justification. Yet that very faith involves the sinner in a life of increasing godliness and good works, so that works are very much a consequence of justification. In this proper sense, works are quite necessary to salvation: as the Confession states, justifying faith "is no dead faith, but worketh by love."
This approach is the key to understanding how Paul's teaching on faith and justification agrees with James's teaching on the same subject. Many Christians want to pit Paul and James against one another, as Martin Luther was purported to have done. But this is mistaken. Whereas Paul was providing doctrinal teaching on justification in passages like Galatians 2:16-17 and Romans 3:23-25; 4:4-5, James was writing to correct the error of claiming faith while having no works. "Someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works,'" James says, complaining against the idea of fundamentally separating the two. "Show me your faith apart from works," he counters, "and I will show you my faith by my works" (Ja. 2:18). Notice James's point: he is not giving a doctrinal definition of justification but rather showing how faith is proved. Whereas Paul says that sinners are justified by faith alone, James asserts that justifying faith is justified by works. This is the very point made by the Confession in saying that faith "is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied" by works.
Roman Catholic apologists make much of James' statement in 2:24: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." They point out that whereas the Bible never says that justification is by faith alone, it states explicitly that justification is "not by faith alone." The Bible says the exact opposite of the Westminster Confession, they exclaim! Our answer to this is two-fold. First, while the words "justification by faith alone" are not in the Bible, Paul clearly makes this very point in Galatians 2:16, "a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ." Second, we point out that what James means is that justifying faith must be proved by good works. In this we heartily agree, with the Westminster Confession. Using the example of Abraham, James pointed out that Abraham's justification was justified by his good works. This is precisely in keeping with the Confession's teaching (or rather, the Confession is in keeping with James, along with Paul). James agrees that the Scripture says that Abraham was justified by faith: "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness" (Ja. 2:23). But how do we know that Abraham believed and thus was justified? We know this, we prove his faith, only by works.
This emphasis on the works that accompany justifying faith is important today. Many Christians grew up in legalistic settings and feel set free from a life of works when they encounter the Reformed doctrine of justification. In one vital sense, they are right! They are freed from the vanity of our works in justification. They are delivered from a "performance religion" that is filled with pride and crippled by fear. God justifies the ungodly through faith in Christ alone! Yet these brothers and sisters need to remember that faith joins us to a Christ who is holy. True faith, by its very nature, leads to good works and all other Christian graces. The claim of faith without corresponding works is a dead claim. To be sure, works are no longer a condition of our justification - praise God for that! But works remain a consequence of our justification. Thus Jesus says to those whose claim to faith is devoid of good works: "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Mt. 7:23).