Does the Bible teach Justification by Faith Alone?
I would like to begin by thanking Jeff for engaging in this debate with me; he will be affirming the resolution, I will be denying it.
1) The doctrine of Sola Fide is built from the premise that, starting with Adam, God had established a way for man to get to heaven, and this condition was perfect obedience to God’s law (which, conversely, demanded punishments for violating it). This is popularly termed in Protestant theology the “Covenant of Works” (cf London Baptist Confession 19.1-2), and is to be thought of as akin to scoring a 100% on a test to be worthy of an “A” in class. Adam failed this obligation, bringing corruption and sin upon the whole world. With fallen man not only failing to perfectly keep God’s law (and thus not worthy to enter Heaven), he also deserves punishment for breaking it. But what man could not do for himself, God graciously did for him, in Christ: Who through the Incarnation both took the punishment man deserved (aka “passive obedience”) and kept God’s law perfectly in man's place (aka “active obedience”) - and graciously “credited” this (dual) obedience to the account of those sinners who receive this (so called) “righteousness of Christ” by faith. This is popularly termed the “Covenant of Grace”. The moment the sinner receives “Christ’s Righteousness” by faith, they are said to be “Justified” - which is a once and for all time legal declaration by God acting as Judge declaring that this individual not only has been cleared of any wrongdoing (i.e. punishments are satisfied) but that this individual is also “righteous” (which is a legal status bestowed upon those who perfectly keep God’s laws) legally entitling them to enter Heaven (cf LBC 11.1).
2) For Jeff to win this debate, he must demonstrate the above concepts are clearly supported by Scripture.
3) While there is some truth to the Protestant understanding of justification, there are significant unbiblical concepts which Sola Fide rests upon. These erroneous concepts will now be addressed.
(3a) “Covenant of Works”. Many of the details behind this doctrine are presupposed and not derived from Scripture. Most significant to this debate is that the “law,” “covenant,” and “works of the Law” Paul was preaching against - in contradistinction to “faith” - was none other than the (works of the) Mosaic Law, not some eternal law of God given to Adam. The Mosaic Law never promised eternal life, even if kept perfectly (e.g. Galatians 2:21; 3:15-18; 4:21-31), and was inferior to the (new and perfect) “Law of Christ” (e.g. Mk 10:2-12). Clearly, the main problem Paul was dealing with was not Pelagianism, but rather a Racial and Covenental problem (i.e. Jews 'versus' Gentiles): Acts 13:39; 15:1,5; Rom 3:29; Gal 6:12-13; Phil 3:2-6. This is why Paul focused his attention in Romans and Galatians on identifying the proper relationship to Abraham (e.g. Rom 4:11-12; Gal 3:29), while exposing the improper relationship (Rom 2:28-29; 9:6-7; cf. Matt 3:7-9; John 8:39, etc).
(3b) Christ’s “active obedience”. The Bible nowhere teaches this concept. This is not to say Christ sinned, He did not - it is only to say this was not done as a specific component for our justification but rather as a condition in order to make Him a worthy sacrifice.
The chief proof-text is Romans 5:19. The Protestant reasoning here is that Adam’s disobedience is contrasted to Christ’s obedience, and thus it must be saying Christ kept the law in our place. But this is simply begging the question, since Christ's “passive obedience” certainly fits here, with no reason to assume more than that. In fact, the only other time “obedience” is said in reference to Christ is in Philippians 2:8 and Hebrews 5:8, which are both explicitly speaking of passive obedience only.
When the lack of any reasonable Biblical evidence for “active obedience” is compared to the abundant references to “passive obedience,” as the saying goes, “the silence is deafening”: in virtually every verse where Christ’s work is mentioned, the only component ever mentioned is Christ’s Suffering/Death (and Resurrection), never his “active obedience”. Consider: Rom 3:21-26; 4:23-25; 5:6-11; 6:1-11; 8:3, 31-34; 10:6-10; 1 Cor 1:22-23; 2:2; 5:7; 15:3-4; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 2:19-21; 3:13-14; 6:14; Eph 2:13-16; 5:2, 25; Phil 2:5-11; 3:8-11; Col 1:19-23; 2:11-15; 3:1-3; 1 Thes 4:13-14; 5:9-10; 1 Tim 2:5-6; Titus 2:13-14; Heb 1:3, 2:9-10, 14-17; 5:1, 7-9; 6:4-6, 7:20-27; 9:11-28; 10:8-22; 12:1-2, 24; 13:12, 20-21; 1 Peter 1:17-19; 2:18-25; 3:18-22; 1 Jn 2:1-2; 3:16; 4:10; etc.
It cannot be an accident that there are repeated reference to Christ’s Death (and Resurrection), without a single mention of “active obedience.”
Lastly, the concept of Christ's “active obedience” contradicts the plain Scriptural teaching that God grants a believer “eternal life” not when they first believe, but at the judgment at end of their life (Lk 18:18-30; Rom 2:6-8, 6:22, Gal 6:7-9, etc) - and deems them worthy (or not) on the basis of the Christian's own good works, not on the basis of Christ's good works done in their place (e.g Mat 25:31-46; 2 Cor 5:10). The doctrine of Sola Fide has (mistakenly) conflated conversion with final salvation (e.g. Mat 24:12-13; Rom 8:24; 10:9-10; 13:11b; 1 Cor 10:1-6; 15:2; 1 Tim 2:15; 2 Tim 4:7-8). (NB: the Final Judgment texts, with God acting as Judge, are the only passages in which salvation is stated in a principally forensic framework.)
(3c) Christ’s “passive obedience”. While numerous passages speak of Christ suffering and dying for our sins, the Protestant understanding of passive obedience is an unbiblical concoction called “Penal Substitution” - teaching that Christ received the very punishment the sinner deserved, which is nothing short of suffering the Father’s full Wrath (which the damned in hell must end up suffering for themself). John Calvin (as do most other Protestant theologians) taught that:
"Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God's anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. ... Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God." (Institutes 3:16:10)
Needless to say, the Bible never teaches Jesus endured anything more than a physical death, a murder in fact, and certainly not the Father's Wrath. Further, the OT never teaches Penal Substitution, thus it's incongruent that it would foreshadow such for Christ. The use of the Old Testament term “atonement” (Strong's #H3722) never involves transferring punishment but rather turning away wrath by doing good deeds (e.g. Gen 32:20; Ex 30:16; Ex32:30//Psalm106:19-23//Deut 9:13-29; Num 16:46-48; Num 25:1-13//Pslam106:30-31; Num 31:50; Prov 16:6, 14). And the Levitical Sacrifices didn't operate in terms of Penal Substitution either. For example: (i) the Sin Offering was only for minor/unintentional sins, never for grave sin (Num 35:30-33), and could be made without killing (Lev 5:11-13); (ii) the Peace Offering was not about atoning for sin, but involved virtually the same instructions of laying on hands on the animal's head and killing it (e.g. Lev 3:1-2).
Lastly, Penal Substitution entails that all of the believers sins he has committed and will ever commit are forgiven at once, which is not only never taught in Scripture, it is contradicted by the fact Scripture only speaks of past sins forgiven (e.g. 2 Pt 1:9; 1 Jn 1:9) and the regular need for repentance (e.g. Mat 6:12), else the believer will lose his salvation and even be damned (e.g. Mk 9:43-47; Mat 18:23-35). David is a prime example of this, as Lutherans (rightly) teach in the Book of Concord (Smalcald Articles 3:3:43), quoting Martin Luther: “when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them.” In other words, David lost his salvation (justification) and had to repent to recover it, as Romans 4 describes his repentance in Psalm 32.
(3d) “Christ’s Righteousness”. Despite the fact the two components which 'comprise' Christ’s Righteousness (i.e. His passive and active obedience) are not actually biblical, since there is frequent mention of “Christ’s Righteousness” (also called the “righteousness of Christ”) by Protestant sources, some points are in order:
Nowhere does the term “Christ’s Righteousness” nor any equivalent concept appear in Scripture.
Luther originally got the idea by mistakenly thinking it was the “Righteousness of God,” but Paul is speaking of the Righteousness of God the Father, not Jesus particularly. (The Father never had to earn this righteousness by perfect law keeping; it’s a quality of God’s Nature, not a legal status.)
When the Bible speaks of righteousness in reference to Christ or the “Righteousness of God,” it is speaking primarily of God’s faithfulness to fulfilling His Promises, despite the fact sinners seem to have foiled His Plans (Jeremiah 33:14-18; Rom 3:3-5).
(3e) Imputation. The Greek term for “impute” (also translated into English as “credited,” “reckoned,” “counted,” etc, all with the same general meaning) is logizomai (Strong’s #G3049), and most Bible dictionaries readily admit the primary meaning is to take a literal account of something. Though the term is used about 40 times in the New Testament, it's never used in the sense Protestants suggest. The sense in which the Protestant is using logizomai is along the lines of “transfer,” such that the phrase “faith is credited [logizomai] as righteousness” (Romans 4:3) is taken to mean “faith transfers [Christ's] Righteousness to the believer's account.” But again, the Bible never uses logizomai in this manner.
Consider how the New Testament itself points away from the Protestant definition of the term. Here are some examples:
Rom 3:28 Therefore we conclude [logizomai] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Rom 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted [logizomai] as a gift but as his due.
Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon [logizomai] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rom 8:18 For I reckon [logizomai] that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
In each of the above situations, the term logizomai is being used to reckon what is actually true about the object itself. In other words, in these examples Paul reckons that:
(i) a man is saved by faith not by works of the law, which is a fact about the nature of works of the law, since they don’t save.
(ii) a working man’s wages are reckoned not as a gift but rather (reckoned) as debt, which is likewise a fact about the nature of paid-wages. (This context is where “reckoned” [logizomai] also occurs in Rom 4:3,5!)
(iii) the Christian is to be reckoned as dead to sin since they’ve died in a very real way to sin (as Romans 6 as a whole teaches), which again is a fact about the nature of a saved person.
(iv) the present sufferings are not comparable to Heavenly glory, which goes without saying, a fact about the nature of the current situation.
Further, there are clear examples of logizomai where someone reckons incorrectly and is thus sinning or in error since they failed to reckon something as it truly was. Consider:
Mark 15:28 - Christ was (falsely) reckoned as a criminal by the Jews
Romans 2:3 - the hypocrite (falsely) reckons he will not be judged for committing the same sins he judges others for committing
Romans 8:36 - persecutors (falsely) reckoning Christians as “sheep for the slaughter”
Romans 14:14 - a spiritually weak Christian (wrongly) reckons certain food to be “unclean”
2 Corinthians 10:2 - troublemakers (falsely) reckoning Paul as an unbeliever