Why must we be justified through faith? (and not by our own good works)

Last updated on May 17, 2021

Why must we be saved through faith?

The teaching of “justification by faith alone” has been called “the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.” This is because, God is so holy, and we are so sinful, that it is impossible for us to ever do enough “good works” to qualify ourselves for heaven. If we are ever to be saved, it must only be through faith in Christ alone.

God is perfectly holy and just

God is perfectly holy (Isaiah 6:3; 1 John 1:5), and so He cannot accept evil (Isaiah 6:5; 1 John 1:6). He is also perfectly just: on Judgment Day, He will judge our whole lives, not just “on balance,” but in every single part (Matthew 12:36).

Unlike God, we are not holy. We have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We should love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). But we don’t. Even a single sin is enough to make us lawbreakers and deserving of condemnation (James 2:11). But we sin every day (Luke 11:3-4), even after becoming Christians (1 John 1:8)! As Jesus says, our hearts are full of evil thoughts (Mark 7:20-23). These thoughts are themselves bad enough to condemn us to hell, even if we don’t act upon them (Matthew 5:21-28)!

From God’s perspective, we are all “unclean” (Mark 7:15) and “dead” in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). We have no power to offer God any good works of our own that will save us (Ephesians 2:9). This is because “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), and God only accepts perfection (Revelation 21:27). We don’t deserve eternal life – we deserve eternal punishment (Revelation 14:9-11).

God is perfectly gracious

The good news is that God is not only perfectly holy and perfectly just: He is also perfectly gracious (1 Peter 5:10)! Because God loved the world, even when we were His enemies (Romans 5:10), God sent His only Son into the world so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life (John 3:16). How can that be? Because Jesus is the one person who, unlike us, always perfectly obeyed God (Hebrews 4:15), and He did so on our behalf (1 Corinthians 1:30). Jesus is the friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19) and He showed us the meaning of true love when He laid down His life for His friends (John 15:13). He was willingly suffering on the cross the death that we deserve (1 Peter 3:18) – the innocent one dying to save the guilty (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Jesus makes it all possible

Jesus makes it possible for us to be saved, not by our works, but through faith in Jesus alone (Romans 4:5). When we put our trust in Jesus as our Lord and our Savior (Romans 10:9), we are united to Him by faith so that we share with Him in everything He has won for us: His death for sin becomes ours (Colossians 2:12). His righteous life becomes ours (1 Corinthians 1:30). This means that the moment we put our faith in Jesus, we are ALREADY justified and acceptable to God. Notice the tenses in these verses: “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Until the day Jesus returns, we will still struggle with sin (Galatians 5:16-17). However, we are, by faith, “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21). When God the Judge looks at us, He sees not our wickedness, but the righteousness of Christ (Philippians 3:9). A righteousness so perfect that we can never add to it or improve upon it. All our own righteousness is “rubbish” in comparison to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8).

Nothing to boast about

Because justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and has nothing to do with our own good works, we have nothing to boast about. God alone gets 100% of the glory (Ephesians 2:8-10), because He did 100% of what was necessary to save us. God is the One who saves, from first to last. So if you are trusting in Christ, you can be 100% sure that God will work in you to keep you standing in faith until the day Jesus returns to bring you home (Philippians 1:6).

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

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