Jesus Taught Justification by Faith Alone

Recently here at crossonmyback, we’ve seen that Jesus didn’t teach justification by works, the point of the Gospels is faith in the cross and resurrection, and justification by faith still needs defending. So today, we’ll word it positively:

Jesus Taught Justification by Faith Alone

Justification by faith alone is all over the Bible (Genesis 15:6, Habakkuk 2:4, Ephesians 2:8-9, etc.), and all of the Bible is of equal worth. However, since some teachers seem to prefer the red letters over the rest, we’ll observe a sampling from the Gospels before we build the whole doctrine (yes, this is a doctrine):

  • Matthew 6:30, 8:10, 8:26: Jesus says that fighting anxiety over material provision, healing the centurion’s servant, and calming the stormy seas are all matters of “faith.”
  • Matthew 9:2, 9:20, 9:29: Jesus says that He heals the paralytic, the woman with the internal bleeding, and the two blind men because of their “faith.”
  • Matthew 21:22: Jesus says that “faith” is the necessary component to answered prayer.
  • Matthew 21:32: Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are condemned because they didn’t “believe” John while the tax collectors and prostitutes did.
  • Matthew 25:21-23: Jesus says that the servants’ good stewardship and subsequent reward are due to the fact that they are “faithful.”
  • Mark 1:15: When Jesus comes preaching in Mark, He commands, “Repent and believe in the gospel.”
  • Mark 9:17-29: Jesus tells the father of the demon-possessed boy that “all things are possible for one who believes,” to which the father responds, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
  • Mark 11:22: When Peter marvels at the withered tree, Jesus first tells him to “have faith in God” and promises that such miracles come from those who “believe.”
  • Luke 7:48-50: Jesus tells the dishonorable woman that He forgave her sins because “your faith has saved you.”
  • Luke 11:13: Jesus says that God gives “the Holy Spirit” to those who trust Him in prayer.
  • Luke 17:1-6: When Jesus gives his teaching about ceaseless forgiveness of our brothers, the disciples say to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” To this, Christ encourages them to have “faith.”
  • Luke 18:8: Jesus says that, when He returns, He will be looking for “faith on the earth.”
  • Luke 22:32: Jesus tells Peter that, despite his coming denials, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”
  • John 5:44: Jesus tells the Jews that they cannot “believe” as long as they seek their own glory instead of God’s.
  • John 6:28-29: When the Jews ask Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”, Jesus responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
  • John 11:25-26: Jesus tells a grieving Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
  • John 20:27: Jesus places a doubting Thomas’ hands into His own scarred hands and side and tells him, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

We could go on, but suffice it to say that these examples aren’t the half of just what the Gospels have to say about faith. How much more the rest of the Bible! (I can feel a full, book-long defense of justification by faith alone coming one day, Lord-willing.)

Summary Points Toward a Doctrine
From these verses, we ought to notice a few things:

  1. The words for “faith/faithfulness/trust/believe” are prevalent in the life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus.
  2. In nearly every account of healing, casting out demons, or life-anxiety, Jesus commands, responds to, and commends faith.
  3. Jesus further links faith to such important themes as good works, prayer, miracles, perseverance, His own cross and resurrection, and our eternal life in Him.
  4. Jesus often links faith to life in the Holy Spirit.
  5. Several times, Jesus flips the Jewish emphasis on personal works to one of faith in Him.
  6. Most clearly, faith is the only means Christ names for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5, Luke 7:48-50, Luke 9:20, etc).

Jesus Taught This Doctrine
Here it is again: Jesus taught justification by faith alone.

  • It may seem that He used different words, but He also used a lot of the same ones as the rest of the Bible.
  • It might be hard to follow, because His words are framed within a story, called “The Gospels.”
  • The Gospels don’t show Him teaching it in a “systematic” kind of way.

But He still teaches it. It’s what He lived, taught, healed, died, and rose again for – that people would trust Him for salvation from sin and death.

What About Works?
But what about us? Aren’t we supposed to be different?

I’ve covered this in other posts, so we’ll keep it simple here. Works follow and flow from faith, but they never replace faith. The biggest work is that one from God the Spirit (the new birth of John 3), in a person’s heart, to birth and grow faith in Jesus Christ (see John 6:29 above).

Jesus’ didn’t deny works; He put them in their right place. He never, ever taught that works justify, only that they prove true faith. As we have seen, He did clearly teach that faith justifies.

Faith in Him is what makes a sinner right before God. Works have their place, but they don’t belong in the place of faith. What we do never makes us right before God; that’s Jesus’ job, and He finished it well.

For people who tend to focus on works, remember this: an inordinate focus on what we do always overshadows what He has already done. The point of the Gospels, and the whole Bible (according to Jesus in Luke 24, among other texts), is Christ crucified and risen.

It is His sacrificial redemption that makes us “zealous for good works,” in Paul’s language (Titus 2:14), or “the light of the world” in Christ’s (Matthew 5:14). The way we read the connections may be different from Gospel to epistle, but the connection itself is the same. Christ taught justification by faith alone, and we will do well to heed Him with the rest of the God’s written Word.

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About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

9 Responses to Jesus Taught Justification by Faith Alone

  1. stephen says:

    Thanks for the helpful post, Britt! Especially good is the big list of examples of Jesus talking about the place of faith, and the point that faith is the thing he identifies that leads to forgiveness of sin.

    By the way, you’ve been spammed by this chick above.

    • B Treece says:

      Thanks on both counts, bro, but the first more than the second (I care not for spam, but did delete it).

      Yeah, this post was motivated by a series of discussions going on about how Jesus “just wants us to live a better life and be a new creation.” All that stuff just confuses Christians away from the means of knowing Christ – faith in Him.

      And why do we fight it? Because it’s hard to believe. May God be gracious to us.

      BT
      Crossonmyback

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  4. Braeden says:

    Yes, faith is essential to salvation, but you must have works as well. I am not saying that works give you salvation (Matt 7:21-23), but if you have faith you will have works, as is said in James 2 (I know it is long):

    “What good is it my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
    But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
    Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
    You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
    In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

    Also in 1 John 5:

    “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.”

    Deeds are not salvation. Deeds are a sign of salvation. If someone is saved by faith, they cannot help but do deeds for God.

    Braeden,
    braedensconfabulations

    • B Treece says:

      Braeden, I appreciate the thoughtful response.

      To the post, I wasn’t trying to expound the place of works after faith, only that they never take place before or during saving faith. We are saved by works: Christ’s works. Simply believing Him is what saves us, and faith is a gift. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone – it’s all from Him and through Him and to Him.

      Do deeds follow? Absolutely! Are they God’s? Yes, that’s why they are regularly attributed to the work of God’s Spirit, not our vaunted will.

      Thanks again,

      Britt
      crossonmyback

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  6. Brian says:

    And where in that did Jesus say faith alone?

    • B Treece says:

      Brian, thanks for writing in and reading so carefully.

      To your question, it is not an argument from silence but from context (Gospels and the rest of Scripture) that Jesus taught justification by faith “alone.” No, He does not use the word “alone,” but the word “faith” appears alone as the means of grasping Jesus’ saving work.

      Or did you see another word that links us to Jesus? Hint: it’s not works.

      Thanks,
      Britt
      crossonmyback

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