The doctrine of justification by faith is in many ways the foundation of the Reformation.

With Luther’s doctrine came a great Protestant disturbance within a very Catholic-dominated world. The doctrine presents the argument that becoming justified is outside the ability of man. By looking at the necessity of justification, how justification is obtained and the meaning of being justified we can better understand why justification is by faith alone. In order to understand the doctrine of justification by faith alone it is necessary to look specifically at the concept of justification. According to McGrath, the literal definition of justification “has become unfamiliar” (McGrath 88) in a religious context. The English definition of justification can be interpreted many different ways due to the Bible’s various translations, but McGrath suggests that using the paraphrase of “being right with God” (McGrath 88) is adequate. The underlying difference between most religions and particularly different branches of Christianity is in how people become right with God. Despite their differences on how justification is obtained, most sects of Christianity can agree that justification is necessary and also on why it is necessary. Justification is necessary because being unjustified results in both separation and punishment from God. Man was originally born justified, but after the Fall of Man, all the descendants of Adam and Eve became unjustified. If all people are the offspring of Adam and Eve, then all people are born unjustified and “through one transgression there resulted condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18). Because of this one sin it is necessary for man to become justified and therefore avoid condemnation. It is easy to establish why justification is necessary but the major challenge for Luther and other theologians is in how justification is obtained. The process of how one can avoid condemnation and ascend to heaven—or salvation—is in the least to say controversial, and resulted in many wars throughout Europe. “[T]he rise of humanism brought with it a new emphasis upon individual consciousness”

2 (McGrath 90), which made the question of individual salvation a very “crucial question” (McGrath 91). People understood the need to be justified—and therefore saved from God’s punishment—but not exactly how salvation came to be. Naturally, people brought this question to the authorities of the Church “with increasing frequency as the sixteenth century dawned” (McGrath 90). This question “could not be answered with any degree of confidence” (McGrath 91), and therefore the Church “was unable to answer it” (McGrath 91). With no specific answer from the Church, the question was left open, resulting in a widespread surge of various unofficial doctrines such as Luther’s justification by faith alone. Luther’s doctrine was a result of his own uneasy conscious towards his personal salvation. Through his personal experiences as a monk in an Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, Luther battled with the painful unrest of trying to come to terms with the fate of his soul. He believed himself to be a good monk but being a good monk was not enough (McGrath 93). Despite his desperate attempts to justify himself, Luther could never become comfortable with his salvation because he could not stop himself from sinning. Luther devoutly believed that God had made a promise of salvation, but he could not get his head around man’s ability to meet the precondition of being justified. “It was as if God had promised a blind man a million dollars, provided he could see” (McGrath 94). Through his personal dilemma, Luther gradually derived a way in which his conscious could be at peace. Through his studies of Augustine and his own personal meditations of the Bible, Luther came to the conclusion that justification is by faith alone. The primary argument of Luther’s doctrine is that faith is the deciding factor between heaven and hell. If faith is the key to Luther’s doctrine, then it is essential to understand what faith is since it determines the fate of the soul. Faith in Luther’s doctrine can be

3 defined as confidence or trust in a person or thing ( Luther argues that “[o]ne thing and only one thing is necessary for Christian life, righteousness and freedom...[t]hat one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ” (Luther, Freedom, 95). The only way a person can be justified is by faith in the Word of God, which Luther claims is the gospel of Christ. Luther best summarizes this gospel with a passage from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Luther’s faith is based on the gospel of Christ, that Jesus was the Son of God and that he died for the sins of the world. Through this faith—and this faith alone—we can be justified. According to Luther, faith can only be obtained by grace, that is, the “the undeserved and unmerited divine favor [of God] towards humanity” (McGrath 88). This is not contrary to Catholic doctrine, considering faith is recognized as a supernatural virtue and as one of the three theological virtues (Waldron). As a theological virtue, faith can only be granted by God to whomever He chooses. The controversy between Luther and the Catholic Church is not regarding how faith comes into being, but rather in why God gives His grace. On one hand, “[s]alvation was widely regarded as something which could be earned or merited through good works” (McGrath 103). Through this Catholic doctrine a good Christian can obtain the grace of God by working for it. On the other hand, Luther claims that it “is false [to believe] that doing all that one is able to do can remove the obstacles to grace” (Luther, Scholastic, 69). Men can do nothing to obtain the grace of God because “without the grace of God the will produces an act that is perverse and evil” (Luther, Scholastic, 68). If men cannot earn grace, they can never achieve faith and

4 therefore can never be justified—leaving hell as inevitable. It is not surprising that this doctrine is controversial, considering it appears to leave men with only despair. For Luther, despair is only the beginning of a realization that ultimately leads to true justification. Luther writes, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ” (Luther, Heidelberg, 74). When men realize that “[o]utside the grace of God it is indeed impossible…to fulfill the law perfectly” (Luther, Scholastic, 70) they “will know that [they] need Christ” (Luther, Freedom, 94). In realizing that they need Christ, men are given the grace of God. Through faith they “ [men] in so far as [their] sins are forgiven and [they] are justified by the merits of…Christ alone (Luther, Freedom, 94). Through the realization of their need for Christ men can then have faith in the gospel of Christ and become saved. God’s grace is the realization of this need. If God does not give men this grace they will never have the need for Christ and thus never become justified. Through God’s grace comes faith and through faith alone comes justification. If God’s grace does not come through a man’s “moral effort” (Ozment, 234), then why does God give grace to some and not to others? The answer to this question is the doctrine of predestination, that “[t]he best and infallible preparation for grace and the sole disposition toward grace is the eternal election and predestination of God” (Luther, Scholastic, 69). Instead of focusing on the doctrine of predestination, which is more developed by Calvin, the focus will remain on Luther’s arguments as to why God does not render His grace in accordance with works. For Luther, justification by faith alone means that works are ultimately ineffective for salvation. The most essential part of this doctrine is that “[n]o act is

5 done according to nature that is not an act of concupiscence against God” (Luther, Scholastic, 68). In saying this, Luther does not suggest that all works are evil, but rather that all works—without faith—are evil. “We do not…reject good works…we cherish and teach them…[w]e do not condemn them for their own sake but on account of….the perverse idea that righteousness be sought through them” (Luther, Freedom, 104). All works without faith are evil because the will of men is “innately and inevitably evil and corrupt” (Luther, Scholastic, 68). “It is false to state that man’s inclination is free to choose between [good works and evil works]” (Luther, Scholastic, 68) because “man, being a bad tree, can only will and do evil” (Luther, Scholastic, 68). If people can only will to do evil then it would be impossible to do good works. This proves that despite popular belief (McGrath 103), the grace of God cannot be obtained by following the law. If man cannot do good works without grace and cannot receive grace without good works, this ultimately takes man out of the equation all together. Following the law is theologically impossible, despite what appearances may show. “Every deed of the law without the grace of God appears good outwardly, but inwardly it is sin” (Luther, Scholastic, 71). Furthermore, not only is it impossible to follow the law or to do good works without faith but it is also sinful to believe either is possible. “The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty” (Luther, Heidelberg, 74). If man believes that he can achieve what only Jesus could do, that is, to follow the law perfectly, this is sinful. Jesus alone “had no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), and that was because He was God. Any Christian claiming to be able to do what only God can do truly needs his priorities checked.

6 Based on the proof that grace cannot be obtained through good works but only through faith—which is in itself by grace—it is natural to wonder why “so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed in the Scriptures” (Luther, Freedom, 95). Luther answers that the Scriptures are “divided into two parts: commandments and promises” (Luther, Freedom, 95). The commandments “are intended to teach man…[to] recognize his inability to do good and despair of his own ability” (Luther, Freedom, 95). By being unable to do what God commands, man can see his own inability. This would mean that all the commandments are made to show man’s imperfection. As discussed above, despair in man’s own imperfection is also faith in the gospel of Christ. The realization of imperfection results in faith in God’s promise, not by works but through faith. With faith in God’s promise “[justification,] which is impossible…to accomplish by trying to fulfill all works of the law…will [be accomplished] quickly and easily” (Luther, Freedom, 95). Now that is has been discussed how and why justification is based on faith alone it is necessary to discuss what it means to be justified. Luther teaches that works are evil in so much as they are not works of faith. He does not imply that there is no such thing as good works, but rather that without faith any work is evil. Luther’s doctrine might be seen to suggest the abolishment of works altogether, which is not the case. The doctrine suggests that all works be avoided in so much as they are not works of faith, and are therefore evil. Alternatively, to be justified is also to be able to do good works because of faith. “Our faith in Christ does not free us from works but from false opinions concerning works, that is…that justification is acquired by works” (Luther, Freedom, 109). To be justified by faith alone gives man the ability to perform good works that are genuinely good. What constitutes a good work is that it is through faith, not through necessity of justification. A man can

7 practice the sacrament of the Eucharist but without faith he does this for himself, he does this only because he wants to be justified. This is an evil work. Another man can practice the sacrament of the Eucharist through faith in God, that by this work he simply glorifies Christ (Luther, Freedom, 98). He does not do this work for himself, but only because of his faith. This is a good work, and would be impossible to do as a good work without faith in the gospel of Christ. A popular argument arising against Luther’s doctrine is that relying solely on faith almost gives men a ‘license to sin’. It is not surprising that statements like: “no evil work makes [man] wicked or damns him” (Luther, Freedom, 103) would result in such arguments. Saying that evil works have no impact on the soul’s fate implies that evil works have no consequences—that even evildoers can go to heaven. This is contrary to what Luther’s doctrine teaches. Luther refers to Paul’s own account of struggling with sin: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin” (Romans 7:22-23). Men, in so long as they are in the body will have the desire “to serve the world and seek [his own] advantage” (Luther, Freedom, 101). Luther does not support sinful nature, but asserts that in this life it is impossible to be without it. He does suggest that by doing works—by faith—one can “control his own body” (Luther, Freedom, 101). This emphasis is not on total control but rather on the soul’s “desire that all things, and especially its own body, shall be purified” (Luther, Freedom, 101). Through faith the soul will struggle against the body’s innate human nature for control until the soul is free of the body through death. Until death “[the] mind [is] a slave to God's law, but [the body is] a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:25). Man is not free to sin, but rather resists sin by faith and through that faith with works.

8 Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone has many other minor details, but the core of his argument is against the belief of justification through works. In proving that all works without faith are evil, Luther contradicted the popular belief of Catholic doctrine. Luther’s doctrine extends to the belief that justification does not require the services of the church through confession or prayer. It is no wonder that the church resisted this doctrine, considering the implications. Luther’s doctrine “threatened to take away from the…church any role in forgiveness” (McGrath 104), and in turn most, if not all,of its power. In a world so used to finding salvation through the payment of indulgences and through penance it was simply unacceptable that people could become justified without the church. Besides, a lot of power and money were at stake. Luther always claimed that nothing in his doctrine was in disagreement with the Catholic Church (Luther, Scholastic, 72), but that the church had simply misinterpreted the gospel and the words of St. Augustine. He only requested “that the church clarify its teaching on forgiveness” (McGrath 104) and through that request came the Protestant Reformation.

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