Is Justification By Faith Alone? -- By: Robert N. Wilkin

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 09:2 (Autumn 1996)
Article: Is Justification By Faith Alone?
Author: Robert N. Wilkin

Is Justification By Faith Alone?

Robert N. Wilkin

Executive Director
Grace Evangelical Society
Irving, TX

Justification by faith alone, according to Gerhard Forde, is “the article by which the church stands or falls.”1 He insists that “where the church no longer speaks this word, it has lost its reason for being.”2 That is a powerful claim.

The famous cry of the Reformers was by faith alone (sola fide in Latin). The Reformers were combating the prevailing view of the gospel in their day, which was that people are justified by faith plus works, not by faith alone.

Unfortunately, many Christians today are uncertain of the precise meaning of basic theological terms such as justification, sanctification, and propititiation. It might be good, then, to begin with a definition of forensic justification. Kenneth Allen writes:

What does it mean to be justified? It means to be declared righteous; to be accounted righteous. It is not a work done within the sinner, but a work done on behalf of the sinner. It is a legal term (or more precisely, in relation to salvation, a legal fact) by which the believing sinner is declared righteous before God while still being himself unrighteous.3

It is comments like this which led Roman Catholic scholar Joseph Plevnik to suggest that “Protestants are still allergic” to “the anthropological aspect of justification, dealing with the person’s cooperation with grace…insisting usually on sola gratia [by grace alone].”4 While from a Catholic perspective that may seem true of all Protestants, it is sadly far from true today.

The Reformation didn’t eliminate Roman Catholicism, and it didn’t insure that Catholic thinking on justification wouldn’t invade Protestantism. Many who are called Protestants hold an essentially Roman Catholic view of justification.

In January of this year I debated a Protestant minister on the issue of justification by faith alone. My opponent argued that justification is by faith, but not by faith alone. He argued that salvation was by faith plus works. His argument was based in part on the fact that the only time in Scripture that the word alone is put in conjunction with faith is in Jas 2:24, and there it specifically says that justification is “by works, and not by fa...

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