Thoughts on the Epistle to the Romans (72)

Luther at Erfurt
, which depicts Martin Luther discovering the doctrine of sola fide (by faith alone). Painting by Joseph Noel Paton, 1861.

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

Romans 3:28.

Any boasting about one’s relationship with God and justification in His sight is excluded, for people are “justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” In Martin Luther’s translation of this verse the wording is: “by faith alone”, which provoked contradiction. In fact the world “alone” is not found in the ancient manuscripts of the New Testament text. Formally, therefore, Martin Luther went too far. Yet there can be no doubt that “by faith alone” is precisely what this verse and the entire context in which it is found would impress upon us.

Our own good deeds play no part whatever when it is a matter of man’s justification before God. Our works or “deeds of the law” haven’t the slightest influence on it. In the second chapter of his epistle James also writes on the subject of “faith and works”, from man’s perspective, however. There it is clear that true faith is revealed by good works.

There is no contradiction between the epistles of these two writers. Their writings do not express their personal convictions but are inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, after stressing salvation by grace through faith, Paul writes: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Good works are the essential characteristic of the Christian life of everyone who has been “justified by faith”.

Image: By Joseph Noel Paton – Original hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, Public Domain,