Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

faith alone

A Faith That is Not Alone

Dear Bret,

Since we’re friends I thought I might write to you in response to your article McAtee Takes a look at Dr. Ian Hodge on Justification. You list a number of objections to some statements in my earlier post, Unbelief or Disobedience — Which Is It?

Bret, you and I had some good times of fellowship in each other’s home, and we both had time to explore the other’s respective position and where we both are in terms of our understanding of the faith. More recently, we shared a common battle against atheism and ignorance on Facebook. We recognize that we are co-travellers on a path to try to turn things for the better, and both find ourselves frustrated by the coldness and indifference we see about us.

Now I don’t know about you, but as I get older I’m afraid that that coldness and indifference is closer to home than I care to admit, and that makes me most uncomfortable. I look in the mirror and detect a reluctance to obey every word that comes from God. A good part of the reluctance I excuse because of the culture around me. It makes it difficult, and at times appears impossible, to stand for the faith. A man today can lose his job, his friends, and maybe even his family by standing boldly for the truth.

Yet we both know that a huge part of the cultural rejection of Christian faith is the unwillingness of  followers of the Messiah to take a stand. And I thank you for your encouragement and our friendship. I have found it a rewarding experience.

But I have to tell you Bret, that when I read your words, “The phrase ‘non necessary condition,’ strikes me as oxymoronic since if you don’t have the condition you don’t have justification,” I almost fell off my chair. Really! I thought to myself, McAtee can’t really believe what he’s suggesting. Not the Bret McAtee I know.

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“That they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'”

In any discussion about justification the phrase “faith alone” will generally be used to describe the idea that justification takes place without any contribution by the person being justified. That is, the idea of faith alone excludes any possibility of a works program that somehow earns privileges with God. St. Paul lays out this concept in his letter to the Romans.

However, there are some people — and I am one of them — who choose not to use the words faith alone to describe the idea that justification is God’s work without any additional activities from man to complete the process.  Salvation is God’s grace alone.  It is a “gift of God, lest any man should boast.” 

When you read the Scriptures you only find the words faith alone together in one place, and that’s in the book of James (2:24): “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Here you see the phrase is used negatively: you are not saved by faith alone.

“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

In his disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church, Luther correctly saw that there was a problem with its view of justification. Selling indulges was just a crass, money-making program that effectively promised easy salvation as a consequence of doing very little.  But it was a works-based system that required man’s active cooperation with God to make salvation complete.  It  had an implicit view that somehow  sin would be forgiven because of the payment of money. Luther made sure the whole world knew this was a wrong view of what the Bible taught.

In his efforts to hold to the what he would later call “passive righteousness,” Luther was adamant the essence of man’s sin was the idea that he was somehow capable of saving himself, even if he did need a little help occasionally from God to make good. Luther would allow no contribution to the graciousness of God. All glory to him alone, and that glory could not be shared.

Now this is what most Christians say they accept as what the Bible teaches , but not all Christians agree on the best way to describe this theological position. Luther added the word alone following the word “justification” to his German translation of Rom. 3:28., but later it was withdrawn. By adding the word alone, Luther turned his translation at this point from a direct word-to-word (dynamic) translation to what is now called a “dynamic equivalent.” That is, the translation is an explanation of the text rather than a direct translation. Now that’s fine so long as you know the difference.  The demand for a dynamic translation, however, required the word alone to be taken out of the text because it was never a part of the original language.

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