Most denominational theologians, exegetes, and translators believe the New
Testament teaches a person is justified by faith alone. Their main point of focus
is Paul's letter to the Romans. So, it is reasonable to ask, "Does Romans Teach
Justification by Faith Alone?"
What is justification? The New Testament uses several words in this family of
words that are from the same "root" or "stem." The adjective dikaios which means
"righteous, upright, just." The verb dikaioo which means to "make right, just, to
vindicate." The noun dikaiosis which means "justification, acquittal, vindication."
The adverb dikaios which means "uprightly, fairly, justly." The noun dikaiosune
which means "righteousness, uprightness, justice." Justification is the state or
condition of being right with God, or declared "no longer guilty" by God. This is
the pronouncement of God through the Messiah, "who was delivered up for our
trespasses, and was raised up for our justification." (Romans 4:25, ASV-1901)
Therefore, the question is: "Does the book of Romans teach that God declares
a person to be righteous or "no longer guilty" by faith alone?"
The short answer is "no." Neither the phrase "faith alone," nor the concept
of justification by faith alone are found in Paul's letter to the Romans. Paul plainly
implies in Romans that nothing alone justifies a person. Paul says a person is
"justified freely by his grace," (Romans 3:24), "justified by faith," (Romans 3:28),
and believers are "justified by his blood." (Romans 5:9) Since a person is justified
by "grace" and "blood," and inasmuch as "grace" and "blood" are not the same as
"faith," a person is not justified by faith alone! If a person were justified by faith
alone it could not be by the grace of God and the blood of Christ! "Alone"
excludes all else.
What are we to make of Paul's statement that, "Now to the one who works, the
reward is not accounted according to grace, but according to debt. But to the one
who does not work, but believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, their faith is
accounted for righteousness."? (Romans 4:4-5)
First, human works are not the basis or grounds of justification. More
particularly, in Romans the "works of the law" (or "works of law", implying the
law of Moses or works by which one puts God in his "debt.") is a point of
focus. (cf. Romans 4:19, 21, 28) There is no justification through such works.
Second, Paul is not excluding the works or deeds required by God as a means
of being justified by God. At least twice in Romans Paul says that his apostleship
was "for (or in order to bring about, RD) obedience of faith." (Romans 1:5; 16:26)
The "obedience of faith" means the obedience that faith elicits; faith that
requires compliance with God's will.
Third, Paul did not believe a person can be justified apart from Christ Jesus or
apart from his death. He reminds the Romans that, "Or are you ignorant that as
many as were immersed into Christ Jesus were immersed into his death?
Therefore, we were buried with him through immersion into death, that just as
Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also
may walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4) Nothing in Romans excludes the
necessity of immersion. Paul says those who are immersed are immersed "into
Christ Jesus," and "into his death." Immersion was the means by which they
received the benefits of Jesus' death. To deny the necessity of immersion is to
deny the necessity of Christ Jesus' work and the benefits of his blood. And that
is what those who teach justification by faith alone do.