Justification by faith alone taken at face value means justification by faith alone. However, more and more today Evangelicals are saying that justification by faith alone means justification by submission and obedience.
One of the leading Christian bloggers is New Testament scholar Dr. Scot McKnight. His blog is called Jesus Creed.
McKnight published a commentary on Galatians in the NIV Application Commentary series. Galatians 2:16 in the NIV says, “We…know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Three times Paul says that justification is by faith in Christ. Three times he says justification is not by works.
But McKnight, like many Evangelicals today, believes that perseverance in good works is necessary to escape eternal condemnation. So he has some explaining to do in his discussion of Gal 2:16. The solution he finds is simple: change the meaning of belief.
Perhaps no term is more misunderstood in modern evangelicalism than “faith.” What is this faith that saves us? What word best describes this term? Assent? Trust? Surrender? Commitment?…We may thus define faith as the initial and continual response of trust in, and obedience to, Christ by a person for the purpose of acceptance with God (p. 121).
Notice that he says that faith is the initial and continual response of trust and obedience so that we might gain acceptance by God. He is saying that in order to be accepted, that is, justified, by God, we must continually trust and obey.
Sounds like standard works salvation.
One is not justified before God at a moment in time according to this definition. One is justified after a life of continual trust and obedience.1
I like the song Trust and Obey. But keep in mind that the song says that “there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” If the issue is being happy, being blessed, then trust and obedience are fine terms. But if the issue is gaining acceptance by God, our obedience (initial or ongoing) has nothing to do with it at all. The sole condition of justification and regeneration is faith in Christ.
In my book The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible, I too say that faith is much misunderstood. I discuss faith in Chapter 1. But I draw the opposite conclusion that McKnight does.
McKnight says faith in Christ is continual trust in and obedience to Christ. I show that that view is widely held today and that view is the problem (pp. 8-18).
McKnight’s view of faith is a major misunderstanding. I show from the Bible that faith in Christ is being persuaded that He indeed guarantees everlasting life which can never be lost to all who simply believe in Him (pp. 19-22).
Take Jesus at His word. That is what faith in Christ in (see John 11:25-27). He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47). It really is that simple. At the moment of faith one is secure forever. Continual trust in and obedience to Christ are not required to be justified. Sure, we should trust and obey each and every day from now until Christ returns. But that isn’t the condition of justification and regeneration.
1Yet in that same paragraph McKnight says that we are justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law (p. 122). He sees a distinction between obedience to Christ’s commands and obedience to the commands of Moses. He thinks Paul is saying that justification is by trust in and obedience to Christ, but not by trust in and obedience to Moses. Really? Compare Rom 4:4-5 and Eph 2:8-9. Justification is by faith alone, not by obedience to Christ’s or Moses’ commands.