Justification by Faith

When Paul taught that a person is “justified by faith,” he did not mean that through believing in Christ they made themselves right in the sight of God.

By Simon Padbury 29 September 2018 8 minutes read

Some people ask, “Did not Jesus himself say to some people, ‘Thy faith hath saved thee’? And does not Paul teach that Christians are ‘justified by faith’?” (compare Luke 7.48-50; Romans 3.28; 5.1).

Yes, indeed! But this does not mean that a person’s faith itself—their own mental (or, spiritual) effort and activity of believing1 in Christ—is what saved them.

When the Lord Jesus declared to someone whom he had healed, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (e.g. Matthew 9.22; Mark 10.52; Luke 17.19; 18.42), he did not mean that their faith itself had worked their miracle of healing, but that Christ, in whom they believed, was their Healer.

So that we can be sure we understand what Christ meant by the phrase, “thy faith hath healed thee,” let us consider another occasion, where Jesus healed two blind men (see Matthew 9.27-31). He asked them whether they had faith in him: “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” And when they had replied, “Yea, Lord,” he healed them, while he declared “According to your faith be it unto you.” It was not their faith that healed them, but Christ himself.

Similarly, when Jesus told a woman whom he (being himself the Son of God) had forgiven her sins, that “Thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 7.36-50), that he did not mean that her own belief in him is what saved her. He meant that he himself, in whom she believed, had saved her. Jesus Christ was her Saviour, not her faith!

Likewise, when Paul taught that a person is “justified by faith,” he did not mean that through believing in Christ they justified themselves by faith (or, that they had made themselves righteous in the sight of God by believing) in Christ. Paul meant that a person is justified by Christ, in whom they believe.

So, do not think of “putting your faith in Christ” as though this were a kind of mental (or spiritual) religious work. Salvation is wrought (or, worked) by Christ alone,2 and is not earned or merited or contributed to by any kind of work that we do, whether physical, mental or spiritual.

Now, do not say that Reformed theology (or Calvinism) puts the emphasis too much on Christ, or that it minimises the part that faith plays. For another of the Five Solas is: justification by faith alone (Sola Fide). Nor does justification by faith alone (excluding all human works or merit) in any way contradict the truth that salvation is by Christ alone (excluding all so-called mediators between God and men; excluding all synergistic “Christ plus [anything]” (including faith); and excluding all other so-called ways to God).

Many Pentecostal and Charismatic3 preachers today go further than historic Arminianism did. They have added “faith-healing” and “faith-prosperity” as analogous doctrines to their “faith-salvation” doctrine. Or, to put it another way: they claim that physical health and wealth are also included in the (Arminian) faith-salvation doctrine.4

  • Faith-salvation: similar to Arminianism, they say that every human being potentially has redemption through Christ’s blood (compare Ephesians 1.7)—and this potential redemption can actually become yours (or, become “real for you”) if you put your faith in it.
  • Faith-healing: similarly, they say that every human being potentially has healing from God for all their deseases, broken bones, missing limbs, etc. because “by his stripes we are [all potentially] healed” (Isaiah 53.5-6)—and this healing can become yours if you put your faith in it. They take this to mean physical healing, but this verse is actually speaking about salvation—see how the apostle Peter interpreted it, in 1 Peter 2.24.
  • Faith-prosperity: similarly, they say that every human being potentially has financial wealth from God, because “Christ hath [potentially] redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3.13-14). They take this “blessing of Abraham” to mean great riches, such as Abraham had in his gold, servants and camels. But Paul was talking about righteousness, i.e. justification by faith—see context: Galatians 3.11-14).

As it has often been preached in healing meetings: “Are there any wheelchairs in heaven? No! Then, it’s not God’s will for you to be in that wheelchair. God wants his will to be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’—but that can’t happen unless you have faith.”

In their churches and “ministries,” and on their radio stations, TV stations, YouTube channels, social media, and websites, it is often asserted that a person’s faith-decision is what enables God to give them salvation, prosperity, and healing. They describe God as willing, even longing, to make the entire human race healthy, wealthy, and saved. But God needs your faith so that he can get you out of poverty, out of your wheelchair, and out of the road to Hell.

In “health and wealth” circles faith is thought of as a kind of mysterious power or force (or, an invisible substance—misinterpreting Hebrews 1.1), by which we can reach up to heaven, as it were, and pull down blessings from God.5

They say that faith is like a channel through which these blessings can pour down from heaven; or, faith is like a missile to blast a hole through the realm of “Satan, the prince of the power of the air” (compare Ephesians 2.2) so that God can get his blessings through; or, faith is like a grappling hook on a rope that can pull down blessings from God. I have heard all these illustrations and more in “health and wealth” churches.

The Arminian says that what Christ accomplished on the cross at Calvary was potential salvation for the entire fallen human race—and so, if you are not saved it is because you don’t have faith in Christ. Faith-healing and faith-prosperity preachers can give you many reasons why you’ve failed to possess health, wealth, or salvation—even if you do have faith in Christ:

  • You don’t have enough faith.
  • You have doubts that have neutralised your “word of faith” (also known as “positive confession”).
  • You have a secret (unconfessed and unforgiven) sin that is somehow neutralising your faith.
  • You had an occultist ancestor who has placed a generational curse upon your bloodline or your DNA.
  • You have an enemy somewhere who has placed a curse on you (or, they have paid a witch or witchdoctor to place a curse on you).
  • You haven’t exercised and strengthened your faith by giving enough “seed money” to your faith-church or your favourite faith-ministry.

How different this all is—totally opposite, in fact—to the true gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through the gift of faith alone, by Christ alone, and all to the glory of God alone.

  1. In English, our two words faith (from Latin) and belief (from Saxon) mean the same thing. n our Bibles, both these words are used to translate one Greek word, πίστις, pistis (Strong’s Concordance, Greek Dictionary number 4102). ↩︎

  2. Christ alone (Solus Christus) is one of the Five Solas of the Reformation. ↩︎

  3. The name Pentecostal comes from their claim that their ecstatic babblings are the very same “gifts of tongues” that God the Holy Spirit gave the apostles and other early Christians (see what happened at that Pentecost event recorded in Acts chapter 2, for the prime example). However, the Pentecostal’s oral equivalent of scribble is clearly not any real language—therefore it is not the God-given gift of a tongue (another word for a language). “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance…Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language…[W]e do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:4,6,11). Therefore, these modern babblers are not truly “Pentecostals” and are wrongly so-called. Several Pentecostal church denominations were formed in the early 20th Century. Some decades later, when Pentecostal teachings became established in older denominations (such as Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian, Roman Catholic), those who held to them called themselves Charismatics for their claim that they too possessed the same spiritual gifts of tongues, healing, prophecy etc. as the 1st Century churches. The major portion of Pentecostal churches are also “Word of Faith” churches, whose distinctive (false) doctrines are faith-prosperity and faith-healing. These churches believe that the health and wealth can be manifested or brought into existence if they confess out loud what they are that “believing for.” See also footnote 5. ↩︎

  4. I have head it expressed this way: “Jesus just didn’t die to give you ‘pie in the sky when you die’—but also ‘cake on your plate while you wait’”! ↩︎

  5. This is essentially the same as the false gospel of modern paganism, “positive thinking,” “law of attraction,” and similar motivational coaches, except for the terminology being changed in order to make it more acceptable to be taught from a church pulpit or on Christian television. Much of this goes back to Phinehas Quimby in the 19th Century, and to Franz Anton Mesmer’s “animal magnetism” a century earlier, and to various old polytheistic, mystical and animistic religions. These are all all the same imaginary secret attractive “force” or “magnetism” but in faith-healing and faith-prosperity circles they call it “faith.” ↩︎