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  • Writer's pictureKrista Smith

Faith Alone. Works. Faith & Works. Which is it...?

Updated: Sep 11, 2018

Throughout every generation, many people have believed that in order to obtain salvation, they must earn favor with God through their good works. Even today, this belief persists in many denominations. However, according to the Bible, grace by faith plus works is a false teaching! But also, the Bible says that faith without works is dead. So, just what does the Bible say, which statement is correct?

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." {Eph 2:8-9 NIV}

“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” {James 2:17; 20 NKJV}

Anytime we have a problem with God's Word it is not a problem WITH his Word, it's a problem with our understanding of His Word. We need to rightly divide the Word of God.

Beth Moore, Lisa Harper, Anne Graham Lotz
Justification vs Sanctification

First of all, in order to understand this, we must first understand the biblical definitions of "justification” and “sanctification." Secondly, we need to realize that they each have entirely different meanings and purposes. When we receive grace by faith, we are justified by an unmerited favor, and we are immediately pronounced righteous before a Holy God. Justification is accomplished through no effort of our own, and when we are justified, all of our sins are forgiven. To be “justified” means that a sinner is divinely pardoned and is legally deemed not guilty. Justification is the only way we can come to a relationship with God. It is through a repentant heart, professing faith in Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins. When we are justified, we accept Him as the Son of God, and we acknowledge His sacrifice on the cross which, in turn, paid the penalty for our sin. After we have received grace, we also receive the Holy Spirit. We are then, in the process of sanctification but we are not yet sanctified. While we live in our human bodies, and as we remain in Christ, we are being sanctified. It is by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled and equipped to overcome the dominion of sin in our lives. Following our justification, there comes a call to holiness.

"For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit." {1 Thes 4:7-8}

We are given instructions in the Bible for things we are "to do," and we are given help from the Holy Spirit to do them. However, we are also warned that there are consequences if we do not “remain” in Christ. The consequence of not remaining in Him is the jeopardy of our eternal position.

Peter was speaking of Paul's message to the believers of his day, and he said, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” {2 Peter 3:16-17}

The Apostle Paul declares that salvation requires Lordship through the process of sanctification and faith. “…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” {2 Thes 2:13-14}

1) Justification = Divinely Pardoned and Legally Pronounced Not Guilty (PARDONED)

2) Sanctification = To Make Holy, Consecrate, Separate (PROCESS)

3) Salvation = Glorification, Deliverance, Safety (PRIZE)

To receive salvation, we must first be justified, and then as we are being sanctified, we must endure. This was the gospel that Jesus, Paul, and Peter preached. Biblical sanctification is built upon justification. However, justification is not established on sanctification. This means that we are not at all justified by our performance. Yet, we also don't want to focus solely on sanctification, apart from our justification. It's not a process of professing our faith once, and then concentrating only on keeping the law or doing good deeds. We must actively die to sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and not by any merit of our own. This requires a daily and ongoing relationship with the Lord. Our minds are renewed as we read Scripture. We are given spiritual understanding, and we are enabled by the Spirit of God to become obedient to His Word. Our desires are transformed because our heart is no longer set on the things of this world; instead, we become transformed by the renewing our minds. The process of sanctification is empowered by the Holy Spirit working within us as we continue to cooperate with the Spirit and choose to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.

But, if we only emphasize the grace of justification, and we eliminate the need for sanctification (righteous living being the evidence that we are remaining in Christ), the result is a massive disconnect from the message of the gospel. As a result, the message becomes distorted.

Paul made two points in Philippians 2:12-13. First, the believer must do their part, and secondly, that the power of God’s Spirit will work in us. He said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

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