“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
If I do the things which God has commanded me to do in the Scriptures does this necessarily mean that I am trying to “earn my salvation”? What is the proper relationship between faith and works?
Paul makes it perfectly clear that we are justified by faith: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). As the opening passage above shows, we have been “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1). Paul warns trying to justify ourselves before God by our works is like trying to nullify God’s grace and make God indebted to us (Romans 4:4-5).
However, are we justified by faith only? There is a big difference in saying one is “justified by faith” and saying one is “justified by faith only”. The word “only” means everything else is excluded including works which God has commanded us to follow.
As Paul uses Abraham as an example of one who was justified by faith, he mentions that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3; cf. Genesis 15:6). Although quite aged and childless at the time, God had promised Abraham that Abraham’s descendants would become as numerous the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5). Was there any kind of work that Abraham would have to do in order to have a child? Abraham and his wife Sarah would have to engage in sexual relations with each other for this to happen.
Although Abraham and Sarah would do their part to fulfill God’s promise for them, their trust was not in themselves, but fully in God to fulfill this promise: “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’ ” (Romans 4:19-22).
Later in epistle, Paul makes a practical application for us to consider regarding the relationship between faith and works. After asking the question, of whether we should continue in sin so that grace may abound, Paul says, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:2). As Christians, when did we die to sin? Paul says, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). As Christians, when we were baptized into Christ’s death, were we trying to “earn our salvation”? No, we were following this command of Jesus (Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:19-20), but placing our faith in His promise to cleanse us from our past sins by the power of His blood (cf. Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38; 22:16).
I realize that I have been “justified by faith”, but I have not been “justified by faith only”. There are still commands given to me by God that He expects me to follow. As I follow God’s commands, I do not believe I am earning my salvation, but trusting in God’s ability to fulfill the promise He has made to me! Today, I rejoice that I have peace with God as I have been justified by faith!
“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).