Justification is the legal act where God declares the sinner to be innocent of his or her sins. It is not that the sinner is now sinless, but that he is "declared" sinless. This declaration of righteousness is being justified before God. This justification is based on the shed blood of Jesus, "...having now been justified by His blood..." (Rom. 5:9) where Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again (1 Cor. 15:1-4). God imputes (reckons to our account) the righteousness of Christ. At the same time our sins were imputed to Christ when he was on the cross. That is why it says in 1 Pet. 2:24, "and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." Also, 2 Cor. 5:21 says, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Additionally, we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1) apart from works of the Law (Rom. 3:28).
To be saved means that God has delivered us (saved us) from His righteous wrathful judgment due us because of our sins against Him. It means that we will not be judged for our sins and be sentenced to eternal damnation. To be saved means that we are justified before God. Only Christians are saved. Only Christians are justified. The issue at hand is whether or not this salvation, this justification, is attained by faith or by faith and something else.
Following is a list of verses that show that salvation/justification is by faith. Bold references are particularly pointed.
- John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
- Rom. 3:22, "even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction."
- Rom. 3:24, "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;"
- Rom. 3:26, "for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
- Rom. 3:28-30, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one."
- Rom. 4:3, "For what does the Scripture say? "And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
- Rom. 4:5, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,"
- Rom. 4:11, "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,"
- Rom. 4:16, "Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all."
- Rom. 5:1, "therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,"
- Rom. 5:9, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him."
- Rom. 9:30, "What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith."
- Rom. 9:33, "just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
- Rom. 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."
- Rom. 10:9-10, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
- Rom. 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace."
- Gal. 2:16, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."
- Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
- Gal.3:5-6, "Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
- Gal. 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations shall be blessed in you."
- Gal. 3:14, "in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
- Gal. 3:22, "But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."
- Gal. 3:24, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith."
- Eph. 1:13, "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise."
- Eph. 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."
- Phil. 3:9, "and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
- 1 Tim. 1:16, "And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life."
James 2:24, not by faith alone
The scriptures clearly teach that we are saved (justified) by faith in Christ and what He has done on the cross. This faith alone saves us. However, we cannot stop here without addressing what James says in James 2:24, "You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone."
There is no contradiction. All you need to do is look at the context. James chapter 2 has 26 verses: Verses 1-7 instruct us to not show favoritism. Verses 8-13 are comments on the Law. Verses 14-26 are about the relationship between faith and works.
James begins this section by using the example of someone who says he has faith but has no works, "What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (James 2:14). In other words, James is addressing the issue of a dead faith, that is nothing more than a verbal pronouncement. It is empty of life and action. He begins with the negative and demonstrates what an empty faith is (verses 15-17, words without actions). Then he shows that that type of faith isn't much different from the faith of demons (verse 19). Finally, he gives examples of living faith that is words followed by actions. He writes of Abraham and Rahab as examples of people who demonstrated their faith by their deeds.
In brief, James is examining two kinds of faith: one that leads to godly works and one that does not. One is true, and the other is false. One is dead, the other alive; hence, "Faith without works is dead," (James 2:20).
Also, notice that James actually quotes the same verse that Paul uses to support the teaching of justification by faith in Rom. 4:3. James 2:23 says, "and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.'" If James was trying to teach a contradictory doctrine of faith and works than the other New Testament writers, then he would not have used Abraham as an example.
Justification is by faith. True faith is God's work (John 6:28-29), granted by God (John 1:29), and is concurrent with regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), which God works in us by his will (John 1:13). This result of this justification and regeneration is that the sinner turns from his sin and towards doing good works. But it is not these works that earn our place with God nor sustain it. Jesus accomplished all that we need to be saved and stay saved on the cross. All that we need, we have in Jesus. All we need to do to be saved, to be justified, is to truly believe in what God has done for us in Jesus on the cross; this is why the Bible says we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). This true belief with justification before God and regeneration in the new believer, results in good works.