It would be humorous except that this happens all the time and it is intentional.
A preacher says, “Justification if by faith alone, apart from works. All you need to do is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and He instantly justifies you. So if you repent and believe and then persevere in good works until death, then He will declare you to be righteous.”
Surely I’m making that up. No one would so blatantly contradict himself. If justification is by faith alone, then it is not by faith plus something else.
But listen to Wayne Grudem. He says, “Justification by faith alone has been a primary belief of the Protestants since the time of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation” (“Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel, p. 19). But then he goes on to affirm that “other human actions necessarily accompany faith (such as repentance from sin or doing good works after we are justified)” (5 Ways, p. 20).
Similarly John MacArthur affirms justification by faith alone (The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 14; see also pp. 194-201), but says that “As we have seen repeatedly, the gospel according to Jesus is as much a call to forsake sin as it is a summons to faith” (The Gospel, p. 176). He also says, “The validation of salvation is a life of obedience. It is the only possible proof that a person really knows Jesus Christ. If one does not obey Christ as a pattern of life, then professing to know Him is an empty verbal exercise” (The Gospel, p. 217).
John Piper says, “The connection between the sinner and the Savior is trust, not improvement of behavior. That comes later” (“Justification by Faith,” at DesiringGod.org). When he says that “improvement of behavior…comes later,” he has just pulled the great switch. Justification is by faith alone. But works must come later for justification to be valid.
In another article Piper says, “Faith is distinct from its fruit, the obedience of faith, yet faith is of such a nature that it must and will produce love for people and a life of genuine, though imperfect, holiness in this world. Therefore, as the Westminster Confession of Faith (11.2) says, the faith that alone justifies (as the instrument which unites us to Christ, not as the ground or content of our justifying righteousness) is never alone” (“What do you believe about Justification by Faith Alone?” at DesiringGod.org). If the faith that justifies “is never alone,” then justification is not by faith alone, but by faith plus works.
That isn’t just confusing. That is straight up contradiction.
Either justification is by faith alone or it is not by faith alone. It can’t be by faith alone and not by faith alone. That is logically impossible.
Let’s say that Harvard said that the sole requirement to get into its undergrad program was to have an SAT score of 1,500 or higher. Could the school proclaim that and then say, “A true 1,500 SAT score always results in a crime-free lifestyle. Thus if someone who received over 1,500 on his SAT has been found guilty of a crime(s), then he is not qualified for Harvard because he did not get a true 1,500 score”? Of course not. That would be silly. Anyone who had an SAT score of 1,500 or more would be admitted. Period. End of story. Because that’s the sole condition.
Now no school has a one-condition only requirement for entrance into its academic family. They all consider grades, SAT scores, extra-curricular activities, integrity, ethnicity, gender, political views, and so on.
But God does have a one-condition only requirement for entrance into His family!
Since most people think that is too easy, they change the requirement into requirements. Typically they add two things: turning from sins on the front end and a life of good works on the back end.
I will close with just four major problems with this practice: 1) it contradicts God’s Word (a very bad idea); 2) It makes assurance of our eternal destiny impossible prior to death (another very bad idea); 3) It gives us grounds for boasting (contra Eph 2:8-9, another terrible idea); and 4) it does not make sense, no matter how you try to explain it (a terrible thing when it comes to evangelism and discipleship).