By Bob Wilkin
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”
While working on a book on one hundred verses which prove that salvation is by faith alone, apart from works, I came across an interesting explanation of what Paul meant in Rom 3:28 when he concluded “that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.”
That seems straightforward to me. Justification before God is by faith alone, apart from works. Paul makes that same point all through Rom 3:21-31 (and again in chap. 4).
The letters QED stand for the Latin Quod Erat Demonstrandum, which means “that which was to be demonstrated” or “it has been proven.” QED is often put at the end of a mathematical proof to indicate that the matter is now settled. It has been proven.
Verse 28 is Paul’s QED.
Paul is clear that our deeds have no part in our justification. However, I came across a popular commentary on Romans which argues that while faith alone is the condition of justification, we need true faith in order to be justified. The commentator, John MacArthur, then went on for four pages to give nine different “reliable evidences of saving faith.” He said that the evidences of saving faith include:
1. “love for God,”
2. “repentance from sin and hatred of it,”
3. “genuine humility,”
4. “devotion to God’s glory,”
6. “selfless love,”
7. “separation from the world,”
8. “spiritual growth,” and
9. “obedient living.”
(MacArthur, Romans 1-8, pp. 323-26).
Many commentators and theologians today affirm justification by faith alone, apart from works, yet they backload the message by saying that the only way you know that you truly believe is by examining your works. While that approach is well intentioned, it is inconsistent with apostolic doctrine.
There is only one reliable evidence that you have exercised saving faith. That evidence is that you currently believe in Jesus for everlasting life/justification. Of course, we know what we believe. The idea that we need some external evidences to tell us what we believe is bizarre.
How do you know you believe that God exists? Do you look at your works to tell you that you are a theist? No. You look at His works (Ps 19:1).
How do you know that you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins? Do you look to your works to tell you that? Of course not. You look to God’s Word.
How do you know that Jesus is coming again? Your works won’t tell you that. God’s Word does.
In the same way, how do you know you believe that justification is by faith alone? Because you believe that is true. Because you believe what God said through the Lord and His apostles.
Good works cannot prove one has been justified by faith. Interestingly, MacArthur gives several warnings in his discussion of these nine reliable evidences of saving faith. For example, regarding his third evidence, repentance from sin and hatred of it, he warns, “True repentance is more than simply sorrow for sin. Judas became bitterly sorry for His sin of betraying Jesus…” (p. 224). He added, “No Christian becomes completely sinless until he goes to meet the Lord.”
Concerning his fifth evidence, prayer, MacArthur warns, “Every genuine Christian will freely admit that he does not pray as often or as earnestly and persistently as he should” (p. 225).
All nine of his points are subjective. If a person is looking at his works to see if he is justified, then he will not be sure he is. Why? Because he is looking in the wrong place. If you believe the promise of everlasting life/justification to the believer, then you know you are justified and born again. The very act of looking to your works to see if you are born again and justified shows that you are not currently believing the promise.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX, with his wife of 43 years, Sharon. His latest book is Turn and Live: The Power of Repentance.