In spite of all the passages cited above, some believe that justification by faith alone is a secondary or tertiary doctrine. They say, “We may be justified by faith alone, but we’re not justified by believing justification by faith alone.” Using that rationale, they go on to say a person may be saved without believing this crucial doctrine. But consider three points in response to that assertion.
The doctrine of justification by faith alone on the ground of Christ’s imputed righteousness remains under direct attack in various quarters. As someone who wrote his PhD dissertation on the doctrines of justification in Richard Baxter and Benjamin Keach, I am convinced that modifying the biblical doctrine is a serious theological error. As a pastor of a local church, I have observed how the doctrine of justification humbles the proud, strengthens the fainthearted, gives assurance to the fearful, encourages vulnerable and motivates self-sacrificing love. To deny this doctrine is to deny the very heart and power of the gospel. May the Lord bring theological clarity on this doctrine for the sake of His own glory and for the good of His beloved bride.
Scriptural Reasons Denying Justification is a Serious Error
1. To deny justification is to deny the heart of the gospel. At the opening of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he tells us that the gospel is powerful to save. He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). Then Paul explains why the gospel is the power of God for salvation. “For in it [the gospel], the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous [or the just] shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:17). Thus, justification or righteousness by faith for life is the power of the gospel itself. To deny justification by faith alone is to deny the power of the gospel.
2. To deny justification is to stumble. Paul explained why such a large portion of Israel was never saved. He writes, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a a righteousness that is by faith, but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it [i.e., righteousness] by faith but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Rom 9:30-32). Those who pursue a righteous status by their own works stumble over the gospel, which teaches that we are righteous, not for our own works, but only for the works of Another.
3. To deny justification is to receive the Bible’s curse. At the beginning of his letter to the Galatians, Paul issued a strong warning. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:6-8). One chapter later, in correcting the Galatian heresy, Paul tells us which doctrine we must not deny in order to avoid the curse: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ . . . by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2:15-16). In justification, Paul tells us plainly, “All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Gal 3:10).
4. To deny justification is an offense that warrants church discipline.