Does the Bible emphasize justification by faith or justification by works for the believer under the new covenant? What is the crux of the gospel—are we justified by works or by faith?
To answer this question, let’s go to the book of Jude. Apostle Jude tells us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). What is “the faith” here that the church is to contend earnestly for? My dear reader, when you hear the word faith mentioned in the New Testament, it refers to “justification by faith”—how one is made righteous before God based solely on his faith in Christ Jesus. This is the crux of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what sets it apart from all the false gospels.
Unfortunately, there are believers today who are departing from this core, defining truth of the gospel. Justification by faith is not their emphasis or priority. They see it as elementary, as basic, as something that believers need to move on from in order to grow in their Christian walk.
What they prefer to preach and teach is doing right or living right. You’ll hear about all sorts of things that you need to do for God in order to live right. You’ll hardly hear anything about how you are justified or made righteous by faith in Christ. Now, I’m not against right living, but that is not the gospel. Right living is certainly important, but it comes by believing right. When you believe right, you will live right.
The crux of the gospel is not right living or good works, but justification by faith. And the apostle Jude tells us to contend earnestly for this. We are told not just to contend for this, but to contend earnestly. That term is translated from one Greek word, epagonizomai,1 from which the English word agony is derived. In other words, epagonizomai literally means “to agonize for.” We are to agonize for the faith! We are to fight for the truth that we are justified by faith and not works. This is the real gospel. This is the good news.
Sadly, what you hear today is hardly good news, because justification by faith has been subtly replaced with justification by works. Yes, they may tell you that you are saved by grace through faith, but then in the same breath, they corrupt the simplicity of the gospel by saying that you stay saved or get blessed through works. If you go to the streets and ask Christians today what justifies them and releases God’s blessings into their lives, most of them will tell you, “Obeying God’s laws and living a good life.” Rarely will you hear, “I’m justified and blessed by faith in Christ.”
But what does the Bible actually say about the gospel we are to preach? The answer is found in Romans 1:17—“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ ” What is supposed to be revealed in this gospel? Not our sins, but the righteousness of God! Only hearing about the grace of God and how you are righteous by faith in Christ will set you free from your struggle with sin, addiction, and bondage. To learn more about how the grace of God produces true holiness, please read the answers to the following FAQs:
- Pastor Prince, why don’t you teach the Ten Commandments? Don’t we need God’s laws to be holy?
- How, according to the Bible, are believers to live holy lives?
- If a born-again Christian knows he is already righteous in Christ and has all his sins forgiven through Jesus’ finished work, won’t he take advantage of this and live a godless life
Joseph Prince, Grace Revolution—Experience the Power to Live Above Defeat (New York: FaithWords, 2015), 109–111.
1. October 27, 2014, from www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/