Home > Fathers of the Church > New Flash: Justification by Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, is Not Something New in the Church’s History

New Flash: Justification by Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone, is Not Something New in the Church’s History

January 7th, 2013
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Roman Catholics often like to accuse the Lutheran Church of having invented the idea that we are saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone. The Roman Catholic Church teaches we are saved by grace alone, it is the faith alone part, that it is so desperately wrong about. Rome, in spite of all the nuanced subtlety in how they explain it, still teaches that we are saved through a formula that goes like this: faith + works = justification. But adding works in a discussion of how we are saves will always result in one of two things: proud Christians who think that, in some way, however small, they are contributing to their justification before God, or Christians who despair when they recognize that they can not do what God demands. The pure Gospel message that salvation is 100% a result of God’s grace and God’s work is the only true and lasting comfort a person can have. So, how “new” is this teaching?

When you start digging around in the Early Church Fathers you discover, without too much difficulty, that in fact they did preach and teach what the NT teaches and preaches on this point. For example, St. Chrysostom once said:

‘What does he mean when he says: “I have declared your justice?” He did not simply say: “I have given,” but “I have declared.” What does this mean? That he has justified our race not by right actions, not by toils, not by barter and exchange, but by grace alone (ἀλλʼ ἀπὸ χάριτος μόνης). Paul, too, made this clear when he said: “But now the justice of God has been made manifest independently of the Law.” The righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ (δικαιοσύνη δὲ Θεοῦ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ) and not through any labor and suffering.’

John Chrysostom (349-407), from ‘Adversus Judaeos’, VII, §3, PG 48:919; translation in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 68, Discourses Against Judaizing Christians, Disc. 7.3.2 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1979), pp. 186-187.

HT: Mark Henderson.

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Categories: Fathers of the Church
  1. October 10th, 2011 at 09:02 | #1

    This is a great quote; thank you for sharing it.

    You will find Chrysostom sometimes used to prove exactly the opposite. For example, I’ve seen some people use Homily 43 from his homilies on Genesis 18-45 to show that we’re saved through virtuous living (e.g., “Our hope of salvation rests in our own good deeds following grace from on high”), but reading such teachings in their context make it clear that these deeds are rooted *in* our salvation, and *are not* the reason for our salvation.

  2. Kelly
    October 10th, 2011 at 20:31 | #2

    Getting ready for Issues, Etc. Reformation week?

  3. October 10th, 2011 at 23:04 | #3

    A layperson visiting here almost daily, always learning here. Responding to the “faith alone”, I read in James that with “faith” one will do “good works”. He says faith without works is dead. My Lutheran pastor said that Luther did not, how do you say,respect James, in fact said James should not be in the bible. Thanks for blog.

  4. October 11th, 2011 at 08:12 | #4

    You are always at your best in this type of article! well done Brother in Christ.

    IXOYC

    Sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)

  5. October 11th, 2011 at 22:41 | #5

    Somewhat ironic that I found Chrysostom’s crystal-clear exposition in a volume published by the Catholic University of America! I have more from Chrysostom and an interesting old quote from Jaroslav Pelikan where he acknowledges the catholicity of the Reformation coming up, Pr McCain.

  6. Gabriel Emanuel Borlean
    October 11th, 2011 at 23:30 | #6

    @D Roamer
    Rev. Fisk from WorldviewEverlasting video podcasts has answered this seemingly opposing views (Paul vs. James). Also recommend these blog Q&A on this topic (James and works):
    http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com/?s=James+works

    Blessings.

  7. Pastor J Kouri
    January 7th, 2013 at 19:43 | #7

    The fundamental question when reading the fathers, or any theology, is what is meant by terms they use. What does Chrysostom mean by grace and faith? What do we Lutherans mean by the same words? And what does the RC church mean? And the Orthodox etc. It is clear that by the words grace and faith RCs and Lutherans don’t mean the same thing. So it’s quite a challenge to discuss clearly of where we agree and disagree. Terms should be first defined.

  8. Adolfo
    January 8th, 2013 at 21:31 | #8

    @Jason Barker Aaaaaameen!

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