Three Theories of Justification

Title: Three Theories of Justification

Bible Book: Romans 5 : 1

Author: Johnny L. Sanders

Subject: Justification



I was one year out of seminary and it was my first state evangelism conference. While I may have forgotten more recent evangelism conferences, I still have some specific memories from my first one, some pleasant, some not so pleasant. In the first place, I was recovering from a bout with the flu that had kept me in the house for two weeks. My friend Kelly and I arrived early and attended the state basketball finals the night before the conference - or did we skip a session? Memory - or lack of same - serves me well here! I also remember that it was raining and I got wet and within a few days relapsed with the flu and the relapse was worse than the original bout.

There is one memory that stands out from the conference and I wish I could remember who was preaching and what all he said. I do remember however that he made the statement that there are three theories of justification and that everyone believes one or the other. All churches, he pointed out, fall into one category or another. He said absolutely nothing I did not know, but when I listened the sermon I realized that I was hearing something that would serve me well throughout my ministry. I do not remember the preacher so that I can credit him with any part of this message; In fact, I don’t remember anything else he said that day. Of course, that is not surprising for a man who has trouble remembering what he said last Sunday!

This is sound New Testament doctrine and every Christian should keep these three theories of justification in mind at all times. In fact, this doctrine is so important that we must look to the Word of God as our absolutely authority as we consider each of these three theories.


A. This Theory Appeals to Many People.

1. The Amish Subscribe Justification By Works. My sister Linda called a few years ago to tell me that her close friend all through school had gone with her mother and two more ladies to Indiana, or some state in that part of the country to visit an Amish community. On the way up there they were hit by a large truck and her friend’s mother, sister, and a friend were killed and this lady was burned severely and unconscious for a long time. She finally, after months of treatment and rehabilitation, was able to return home. They had read books about the Amish and seen movies about them and decided they want to visit a community the had read about on the Internet. I was on the Board of Trustees for LifeWay Christian Resources for two terms and served on the B

2. This Is the Theory to Which Judaism Subscribes. A Christian was discussing his faith with a Jewish friend, whom he tried to convince that Jesus really is the Messiah. The Jewish friend finally declared, “There is one major difference between Judaism and Christianity. We believe you have to work for what you get, and you believe you are saved by something someone else did for you two thousand years ago.” He obviously felt that he had successfully and succinctly defined the basic difference between Judaism and Christianity. He had. He could not have stated it more correctly or concisely. From the smugness with which the Jewish friend spoke, it was obvious that he thought he had given the final answer on the subject. But let us see what the Bible says

B. The Bible Says No One Is Justified By Works.

Once again, the Bible is our authority. A few days ago, I saw a man in a business in Monroe, LA who was wearing a T-shirt with what seemed to be a Christian message. As I turned to look he stopped so that I could read the message. It read, “GOD SAID IT, I BELIEVE IT, AND THAT SETTLES IT.” This man was not offended when, after some discussion, I reminded him that when God says it, it is settled. When God speaks eternal truth is either affirmed or established. The only question is, am I going to “get in on what God is up to?” I will never forget the first time I saw these words. When I was a student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I learned that R. G. Lee was preaching at Mid-City Baptist Church in New Orleans, so Becky and I drove over to hear him. I had heard him many times in person and for several years my family got home from our services in time to hear Dr. Lee on television. As we sat down in the sanctuary at Mid-City, I looked over the choir loft and saw those words in bold print: GOD SAID IT, I BELIEVE IT, AND THAT SETTLES IT. I was at first impressed and then as I thought about it I realized that divine truth is established when God speaks. I must accept it or reject it, and face the consequences for my decision.

When it comes to a subject as important as this one, we must understand that the Bible is our final authority. I once expressed my disappointment that someone to whom I had witnessed did not make receive Jesus as his Savior. One lady almost glibly responded, “He just didn’t feel anything in his heart.” While we would expect a new convert to “feel something in his heart,” we must be very careful to avoid equating a feeling in the heart with justification. No one is saved by a feeling, any more than he or she is justified by works.

1. Paul states it clearly in Galatians 2:16.

"...A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

2. Ephesians 2:9 is not open to debate.

“...Not of works, lest anyone should boast.” No two people are equal. We have different talents, different gifts, different opportunities. If salvation was based on man’s work - upon any human effort - then any individual might have grounds for boasting. But if he cannot point to anything he has ever done to accomplish his justification he can hardly boast. In Heaven, there will be no human pride, no boasting. God has seen to that. In Heaven, He will receive all the glory.


A. There Are Those Who Believe One Is Justified By Believing Plus Something More.

1. One is not saved by repenting and being baptized. In other words, baptism is not essential to salvation. It is interesting that some believe you must be repent and be baptized, but you can lose your salvation and be saved again by repenting without being baptized. Someone may quote Acts 2:38 as a proof text, so let’s tale a look at that verse. In the King James it reads:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The New American Standard has: Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

When asked what they should do to be saved, Peter answered: (All of you must) “Repent” (second person plural, imperative active - All were commanded to repent.). There is no period following “Repent,” but there is a break in the action demanded by the verb change. The second verb, “be baptized,” is still in the imperative, but everything else changes. It is in the third person, singular, and passive. In other words, Peter commanded all to repent, and then those who do repent are commanded to submit themselves for baptism. Simply put, only those who repent are to be baptized.

2. No one is saved by believing and doing good works. One of my favorite singers for many years was the late Marty Robbins. I especially loved his western songs. Of course I am a Louis L’Amour fan, having read about everything he wrote several times. I remember the first time I heard Marty Robbins sing, “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife.” I was enjoying the song and then he sang, “Lord, grant her my share of heaven if I have earned any here below.” No one earns any part of Heaven. We do not work for our salvation.

It is not uncommon for a pastor to speak with a family member before a funeral and hear the words, “If anyone ever deserved to go to heaven, my mother did.” No one, however, deserves to go to Heaven. My mother is in heaven right now. Friends and neighbors who knew my mother, if here, would assure you that my mother is in heaven, and I am sure many would then share some of the things my Mother had done for them, or for some friend. She sold clothing in her store and there is no telling how many people she gave clothes, and not only to that little grandson, my son John, she love so much. Her pastor was in seminary and once when I asked my father about a bag that had obviously been stored away on a shelf. He said, “That is something your mother put back for Alan.” She was always thinking of her pastors as she did of others. She was her church treasurer at one time and someone called from the bank next door and told her a check had been returned for insufficient funds. She went next door and gave them the money so the person would not be embarrassed. I could write a book about my mother’s good deeds, but my mother is not in heaven because of her good works. She is in heaven for the same reason she did all those things for other people. She is in heaven because she had received Jesus as Savior and she did all that good work because she had Jesus in her heart.

My very good friend, retired pastor Jim White, and I were members of the same health club for years and since we went to the gym on the same days we often talked before leaving. Following Jim’s second heart attack he was forced to miss for some time. A mutual friend, a retired Jewish businessman, saw me one Friday after Jim began missing, and quipped, “Well I guess I will have to tell you what I used to tell Jim. When he started to leave every Friday, I would say, ‘Give ‘em hell, Jim.” I assured Phil that hell is not a gift, Heaven is.” He has never given me an opportunity to pursue that, even though he assures me that when I have another book printed he will buy a copy!

B. The Bible Teaches That No One Is Justified By Any Combination of Works and Grace.

1. In Galatians 3:3, Paul was inspired to deal with this.

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (NASB). Paul had taught the Galatian Christians the truth, but Judaizers, frustrated by their loss at the Jerusalem Conference of A. D. 51 (Acts 15; Gal. 2), had followed him to the Galatian churches insisting that the Gentiles must believe and be circumcised in order to be save. They had been taught sound doctrine, but now some were being influenced by this heresy. Paul’s response was from the Barney Fife school of theology: “You have to nip it; nip it in the bud!”

2. In Romans 11:6, Paul Closes the door forever on any “grace - plus” theory.

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

Grace is the unmerited love and favor of God. If you add one measure of works to it, you destroy grace. What this verse tells us is that you are going to have to choose between the Justification by Works theory and the Justification by Grace theory. Grace and works are totally and eternally incompatible. Either cancels out the other. Therefore we must conclude that both Justification by works and Justification by any combination of works plus grace are unscriptural

We might add that there are many people who readily agree that salvation is not accomplished by any combination of grace plus works - as in believing and being baptized; believing plus communion; believing plus manifesting certain gifts - who, none the less believe that once you are saved by grace plus nothing, your security in the Lord from that time on depends in part upon your works. According to the Bible, we are saved by grace, we are secured by grace, and we are sanctified by grace.


A. The Scripture Leaves No Room for Doubt.

1. Ephesians 2:8-10 is crystal clear.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— (9) not from works, so that no one can boast. 10) For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10. HCSB)

According to this passage, Justification is by God’s Grace, plus nothing. Grace is the unmerited love of God expressed in His sending His “only begotten Son” to die on the Cross in order to provide for our salvation (John 3:16). No one is saved by good works, but everyone who is saved is saved “for good works” - so that we might do good works that honor our Lord.

2. Galatians 2:16 affirms this.

“Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (NASB).

3. Romans 5:1-2 is especially enlightening

“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (KJV).

As the late J. P. McBeth pointed out in his commentary on Romans, “having been justified by faith” points to action that has been completed in the past, but action from which we receive continuing benefits. Those who have been justified by faith (by grace through faith) are blessed with:

1) Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ - a present blessing
2) Access by faith into this grace - a present blessing.
3) Standing (we stand) - again a present blessing

B. The Scripture Is Clear on the Subject.

1. Justification is by grace through faith, plus nothing.
2. This is not a theory, it is the truth.
3. Only faith is compatible with God’s grace, and this faith is a gift from God.

C. This Means That Works Are the Fruit, Not the Root of Our Salvation.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them”(KJV).

1. Works are essential, but not to Justification. “We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4, HCSB)

2. Works are essential for those who have been justified. They are also important to one’s witness for the Lord. Paul wrote of those who “...profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works.” (Titus 1:16, HCSB)


There are three theories of Justification, and you hold either one view or another.
You either believe that you are saved by works, works plus grace, or by grace alone. There is one position that is scriptural. The more we study the Word of God the more we see how uncompromising this position must be.

There is another blessing for those who understand this essential truth. If you believe that salvation is by grace plus nothing - plus no human work - then you should have assurance of salvation. The Gospel of John was written that you might know our Heavenly Father through faith in His Son (John 20:30-31). The First Epistle of John was written that you might know that you know Him (1 John 2:3).

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