Debate on Justification (First Rebuttal)
By: Peter Pike, Affirming "Sinners are justified only once by grace alone through faith alone"
Since this debate hinges on the interpretation of a few key passages, I will spend the vast majority of my time looking at the book of Romans. It is not really necessary to discuss the majority of Mr. Tierney's arguments because, as I shall demonstrate, the only correct way to interpret Scripture is the way that Protestants have done so. Since Mr. Tierney cannot offer a valid exegesis of these texts-an interpretation that takes into account everything in the context-the Protestant position is the only one remaining. I ask the reader to judge for himself if Mr. Tierney's interpretations actually fit all the data we have.
So let us delve into Romans, specifically into the area we both discussed in our opening statements: Romans 4. Before we get there, however, we must see the context of the book of Romans as a whole. Mr. Tierney has actually erred in his understanding of the relationship of works to the Gospel, and this is clearly seen by examining a quick outline of Romans.
Paul begins Romans by stating that he is going to write about the Gospel. In Romans 1:15 he writes: "So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 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." But Paul then says something interesting as it relates to our discussion. After affirming that he is not ashamed of the Gospel, Paul writes: "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'But the righteous man shall live by faith.'" (Romans 1:17).
Right off the bat, Paul is identifying the Gospel with faith. He says clearly, "The righteous man shall live by faith" (quoting Habakkuk 2:4). Furthermore, nowhere in here do we see any mention of works at all in relation to the Gospel. This is important to keep in mind. There is absolutely no indication anywhere of any idea of works meriting justification in Paul's theology.
As we continue, we read: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18). The rest of the chapter is a list of the evil things that men do.
But what does this have to do with the Gospel? Remember that "Gospel" means "Good News." Before the Good News can be shared, however, the Bad News must be known. This is what Paul is going to write about. Paul's comments about the Gospel serve as an opening statement, and then he lists the Bad News. Men are evil. All men justly deserve condemnation.
Chapter Two makes it even more explicit. "Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" (Romans 2:1). The Jews may have thought that they could get away with it because of the fact they are heirs of Abraham, but Paul sets them straight: "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds" (Romans 2:5-6).
The interesting thing about this passage is that Mr. Tierney quoted it as if it were part of the Gospel promise. He wrote: "Here, are we are told God will judge every man on the basis of what, faith alone? Absolutely not. We are told that God will judge each man according to his works. To those who do well in seeking honor and glory, eternal life is given to them. To those who don't, well I think we all know what will happen." I submit that Mr. Tierney has completely missed the point of what Paul is saying here. Paul has not yet begun to address the Gospel at all, outside of his opening statement. Instead, he is establishing the fact that all men are alike under condemnation because all men are evil. Thus, Paul argues that there is no salvation by works.
How is this demonstrated? First, Paul shows that all men do evil things. Then he points out the fact: God "will render to each person according to his deeds." This is not Good News at all! This is horrible news! And Paul is not finished: "There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek" (Romans 2:9). Yes, this is bad news for everyone!
The thing that you must understand is that the Jews thought they were saved simply because they were Jews. But Paul is making his argument crystal clear: "It is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified" (Romans 2:13). Now one might be tempted to say that Paul is preaching how one can be saved. In actuality, Paul is explaining why everyone deserves damnation. As he continues: "You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For 'the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' just as it is written" (Romans 2:23-24).
Paul's arguments reach their climax in Romans 3. Here, Paul writes, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one'" (Romans 3:9-10).
These words must be taken as the context to Paul's entire argument of Justification. While Mr. Tierney would lead you to believe that Paul is arguing for the necessity of works in salvation, Paul is removing all possibility for any kind of work to be involved in salvation at all. This is obvious in the fact that Paul writes, "both Jew and Greeks are all under sin." But if all are under sin, then the only thing that will happen is: "all who have sinned under the Law, will be judged by the Law" (Romans 2:12).
In short, up until now, Paul has painted a very bleak picture. Men are all sinners. There is no one who does righteous-not even one! The only possible conclusion that you can come to is that everyone deserves damnation, and no one deserves blessing from God! It is impossible for Mr. Tierney to deal with the universal sin of man that runs through all of the first three chapters of the book of Romans. The only recourse that he has is to ignore the sin parts and instead focus on the promise that those who obey God will be rewarded. But as we have clearly seen, this ignores Paul's point which is there is no one who is righteous! There is no one who can do good.
It is imperative that we recognize this. Romans loses all meaning if we divorce it from the fact that all men are evil. Consider the following: "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20). Did you catch that? No one will be justified in God's sight by works of the Law. Yet this is the same Paul wrote: "glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 2:10). I submit to you that the only way to reconcile these two passages is to admit that Paul never once thought that anyone could actually do good deeds, even though perfect obedience would gain "glory and honor and peace" for the one working. As such, since no one can actually work Paul can write: "by works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight."
But Paul does not leave us in this bleak landscape. Remember how Paul introduced the Gospel back in Romans 1:17? The righteous shall live by faith. Paul now picks up that theme again, and this is where we get the Good News-the Gospel. Immediately after stating that no one can be justified by the Law, Paul writes the following words:
"But now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe, for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:21-24).
Again, we must keep the context clearly in our mind. Paul has just demonstrated that there is no one who does good, not even one. He further states that no one can be justified in God's sight by the Law. How, then, are we justified? Through faith. And this is completely apart from the Law! There is no way to reconcile the Law and faith!
This passage cannot be clearer. There is no mention at all of the ability to do any works to merit justification. Such a notion is completely alien to Paul's thoughts here! Paul has just demonstrated that there is no one who can do any good, and that the Law cannot justify a person anyway-it is impossible to assert into this text any notion of any kind of works. Such a thing is to turn the passage on its head. So lacking is the idea of works that Paul states being justified is "a gift by His grace" in verse 24.
But we're not through! Let me take up the passage again, starting in verse 23: "…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier or the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26).
God is the one who is the justifier, and He justifies the one "who has faith in Jesus." There is absolutely no mention at all of any kind of work in this passage! In fact, Paul continually rails against it. "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Romans 3:27-28).
Faith and works are completely opposed to one another. There is no other way to interpret this passage. Justification is either by works, or it is by faith-it cannot be by both. Paul clearly shows which side he falls on: "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."
Here, Paul turns to the example of Abraham. "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness'" (Romans 4:1-3).
I spent a great deal of time on this passage in my opening statement, for good reason. It is impossible to deny the implications of it. Let us summarize Paul's argument up until now.
Chapter 1: Paul introduces the Gospel as something by "faith." No mention of the necessity of works is made. Paul then shows that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
Chapter 2: Jews are just as guilty of suppressing the truth as Gentiles. Simply being a Jew will not save a person, because it is the doers of the Law, not the hearers of the Law, who are righteous.
Chapter 3a: No one is righteous. All men are evil. As a result, the Law can justify no one.
Chapter 3b: The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, and it is by faith in Christ, such that it is completely alienated from works.
Now, in Chapter 4, Paul continues with his example of Abraham. Since I already gave a solid defense of the Protestant view in my opening statement, let me look at the remarks Mr. Tierney made about this passage. He stated:
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Paul simply states that if righteousness was deserved, then it would not be by grace. It doesn't matter whether there is a "contractual" obligation in the least-any obligation makes grace a debt. Mr. Tierney is right about one thing though: if we are to obtain justification by works, they must be done perfectly. However, Mr. Tierney then states: "This in no way implies that Paul is condemning all types of works relating to justification. He is only speaking against those works of debt."
But is that the case? As I have shown you, Paul allows no instance of any kind of work to come in. In fact, all Paul ever says is needed for salvation is faith! Nowhere does Paul state that anything else is needed besides faith. And, as I've shown you here, Mr. Tierney's reference to Romans 2 misses the point Paul is making: "There is none righteous, not even one."
While Mr. Tierney appears to mock serious exegesis of Romans 2, I must ask him to show the Scriptural support as to why we should think that Paul, in the second chapter of Romans, was saying that works could merit justification. This simply cannot be done.
Now, let me restate what Romans 4 says, as I previously wrote in my opening statement:
This issue of boasting is something that Mr. Tierney has yet to deal with. Paul, however, seems vitally concerned about it, since he mentions in not only in Romans 3 and 4, but also in Ephesians 2, all in the context of salvation by grace through faith, apart from works. But Paul never makes the statement that "men ought not or should not boast because salvation is by grace, through faith." Paul always says that salvation by grace through faith excludes boasting. It is impossible to boast in true justification, because it is completely apart from anything that man can do.
We now turn our attention to other matters that Mr. Tierney brought up. Unfortunately, I will not have time to address all the misconceptions that he put forth. But as an example, after quoting Psalm 51, Mr. Tierney writes: "You read this text, and there is nothing about imputed righteousness." But this is to miss the point of Paul's argument in quoting David in Romans 4: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD will not take into account" (Romans 4:7-8). You see, imputation is not just about imputing righteousness to the sinner, but also the imputation of a persons' sin onto Christ. And so Psalm 51 (which really has nothing to do with Romans 4, because Paul is really quoting Psalm 32) doesn't need to speak about the imputation of righteousness. Psalm 32, interestingly enough, ends by saying, "Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart." David clearly is showing that the righteous people, those who are upright in heart, are those "who trust in the LORD." Thus, faith is once against illustrated, apart from works.
Mr. Tierney then speaks about Phinehas, and says that Phinehas was imputed righteousness by works, because he interposed and a plague was stopped. But this begs the question of what kind of interposition Phinehas did. Mr. Tierney claims it is because Phinehas did good deeds. I maintain, however, that it was because "he was jealous for his God" (Numbers 25:13). As we see in Hebrews 11, the only righteous actions are those that are done in faith.
Mr. Tierney then writes:
Unfortunately, what Mr. Tierney does not realize is that since he agrees that Phinehas is not going to contradict Abraham (after all, Mr. Tierney has admitted that Scripture cannot be broken), no matter what we think of Abraham, Phinehas would be the same kind of example as Abraham. In other words, Mr. Tierney is reading his interpretation into the text, and then arguing that if it were correct. He basically says that if Paul meant the Catholic understanding, the Jews would not have put forth an argument about Phinehas. Therefore, since the Jews didn't put forth an argument about Phinehas, Mr. Tierney must be right in his interpretation.
However, since Phinehas is not a counter-example to Paul, but instead also demonstrates justification by faith, I could just as easily say, If Paul meant the Protestant understand, the Jews would not have put forth an argument about Phinehas (because it agrees with Abraham). Therefore, since the Jews didn't put forth an argument about Phinehas, I must be right in my interpretation.
Those of you who have taken logic classes will realize the fallacy of this argument. This is nothing less than an argument from silence. Rather than discuss what the Bible does say, Mr. Tierney would rather look at what it does not say. This may very well be because his doctrine is not found anywhere in Scripture, so he must be accustomed to looking outside of the text.
Mr. Tierney then illustrates his lack of Biblical knowledge relating to sin when he states: "[God] looks on us like a father looks at his son. He will see faults in his son, but will not condemn his son to death for one fault." This shows a severely flawed view of sin. Indeed, God will condemn anyone for just one sin. As James writes, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). And as Paul writes: "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them'" (Galatians 3:10). The fact is that one fault will indeed bring about condemnation. It only took one sin for Adam to plunge mankind into depravity.
Mr. Tierney also argues that justification is a process that can be gained and lost. Let me deal with that briefly. Justification is a one-time event. It is not something that we can gain and lose, as Trent teaches. Instead, Paul tells us clearly: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:1-2).
This passage is interesting. First, it says, "Therefore, having been justified." It is speaking of a present action. Believers can be justified! And what happens in such a justification? "We have peace with God." This is true, genuine peace. The war is over. There is no enmity between God and man when man is justified because, "having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (Romans 5:9).
Such peace cannot be found in the Roman Catholic system of theology. Indeed, at no point in time can the Roman Catholic be assured that he will be saved. At any moment, Kevin Tierney could commit a mortal sin, die, and go to hell. This does not bring peace between God and man in the least. True peace, a lasting peace, can only be obtained if justification is a once-for-all event.
As Paul continues: "For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17). You see, it is the gift of righteousness. It is the gift of dikaiosunes: justification. Those who receive it "will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ."
In my next rebuttal, I shall take extreme care to look over James 2. I do not have enough time to do an adequate job now, so let me leave you with some final thoughts about what we have discovered here:
1) All men are sinners. No one is righteous, not even one. As a result, none can obey the law completely. None can be perfect, as the Father is perfect. Such is impossible.
2) Justification cannot be based upon perfection in works because no one is perfect, but instead must be based completely on faith alone. Paul, in his extremely detailed analysis of the Gospel in the book of Romans, never mentions works as being necessary for salvation. In fact, he states the exact opposite, with no indication that he assumed there were works that were valid. Paul universally denies the ability of works to save. Faith is the only instrument Paul ever mentions as being needed for salvation.
3) Paul's statements about the nature of justification is such that it is impossible to boast. This implies the complete inability of a person to do anything at all. As soon as any effort by an individual is advanced, that individual has the ability to boast about his own accomplishments.
4) If salvation really were by the actions of people, then salvation would not only be a result of works, and not of faith, but it would also not be a gift from God, but rather something that is earned. Grace, however, cannot be earned; it must be given as a gift.
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