Justification by Faith Alone is False Doctrine

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by Mike Clark © 2024  

Note that this article is written in accordance with my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member. The contents of the article are my own work, and does not necessarily represent the view of the Church.


You cannot ignore scripture for the sake of the dogmas of men

The doctrine of justification by faith alone asserts that it is on the basis of faith alone that believers obtain forgiveness from sin. Things like getting baptized and doing good deeds instead of evil deeds are just not important – it’s faith alone that saves you. By dint of the Grace of Christ, of course. And there are even some Christians who seem to believe that any kind of action to confirm one’s faith, such as baptism, is something preferably to be avoided so as to not disturb the principle of justification by faith alone.

This doctrine has been in development for close onto two thousand years. But it’s not based on scripture. From the start, Jesus insisted that works were necessary. When Nicodemus came to question him in the night, Jesus told him

“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3-5)

And in fact, Jesus conformed to his own dictum; he himself went to John the Baptist to be baptized. John initially objected, because he clearly recognized that Jesus did not need baptism, since Jesus had no sins to repent of. As John said, when some Pharisees and Sadducees came to him,

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance…” (Matt. 3:11)

Jesus answered John’s reluctance by saying

“Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15)

Thus it should be clear that no-one is excused from baptism, who wishes to enter the kingdom of God. This includes the baptism of the Spirit, or figuratively “of fire,” that John said was Jesus’s role to dispense “…but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:” (Matt 3:11)

And according to what Jesus told Nicodemus, both components, water and the Holy Ghost, are required to be received.

I know why this doctrine of justification by faith alone came about. Many of the Protestant reformers were in rebellion against the Catholic practice of the indulgence, wherein donations of money or other valuables to the church were supposed to reduce the amount of penance, or suffering that a soul would have to suffer after death to pay for his or her sins. The great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, felt that this was a false doctrine, and was corrupt, enabling rich persons to supposedly avoid divine penalties altogether, while condemning poor people to greater punishment in the hereafter.

Luther addressed this corrupt practice in his 95 Theses, condemning what he saw as the purchase and sale of salvation. And Luther was completely correct.

It is a fact that the grace of Christ cannot be earned. No matter what we do, or think we do to obtain it, that which we do does not pay for that grace. We do not possess the coin by which it can be bought. It is because we keep His commandments (which must include the baptism that He himself submitted to) that He admits us to His grace, and thereby we are forgiven of our sins.

Of course the mere act of being immersed (or for that matter, sprinkled) has no power to do anything. After all, at one time or another we go swimming or rain falls upon us. These actions cause nothing but wetness. But God has already demonstrated that it is the intent that counts.

Examine if you will the case of Naaman, as reported in the Old Testament. Naaman was the captain of the armies of the king of Syria. He was a great soldier, and was both brave and honorable. But he had a problem: he was suffering from leprosy, an incurable disease. It came to his attention that the prophet of Israel, Elisha, had the power to heal him. Accordingly, he came with many of his soldiers to Elisha’s house, and was prepared to pay him well for the cure. But Elisha would not come out to meet him. Instead Elisha sent a messenger, telling Naaman to bathe in the River Jordan seven times, and then he would be cured.

Naaman was really angry at this advice. First, the prophet wouldn’t even come out to meet him. And then he gave Naaman what seemed to be nonsensical advice. Naaman raged, and said they had better rivers in Syria, and why should he go to the Jordan? He gathered up his troops and left.

But it is written in verses 13 and 14 that:

“…his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5:13,14)

Naaman already believed Elisha was a prophet of God. He had faith that Elisha could heal him. Else why would have come all that way? But if he had returned to Syria without bathing in the Jordan in obedience to Elisha’s requirement, would he have been healed? No!

Let’s ponder this for a moment and ask the question: was the power to heal Naaman’s leprosy in the water of the Jordan River? Of course not. Millions of people over the millennia have bathed in the Jordan, and no-one other than Naaman is recorded as having been healed of any disease. The power was not in the water of the Jordan. The power was in the actuated faith that Naaman demonstrated.

By the same token, baptism in itself has no power to forgive sins. But baptism and trying one’s best to remain repentant (see Mark 13:13) is a token or act of faith that calls forth Christ’s forgiving grace. That is the power of forgiveness, the submitting to that act which seems inconsequential, not the baptism itself. And that is why justification by faith alone is a false doctrine.


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