The reason why I am a Protestant and not an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic is because of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches rejects the Gospel of Justification by faith alone. I have given many reasons in this blog why all Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics arguments are unsuccessful, but this blog post will be a positive reason for rejecting the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective and for embracing the Protestant perspective. In this post I will argue that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understanding of justification is incorrect according to our earliest Christian Testimony: The Bible. Thus, we should have a strong reason to doubt these two Churches and embrace the Protestant position.
The fundamental difference between the Protestant understanding of justification and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective is the role of works in justification. The Protestant position is that no type of work can contribute to ones justification, whereas in the Eastern and Roman view it affirms that certain works can contribute to your justification. Here are my four arguments for the Protestant position:
1) The Bible teaches that Grace is only compatible with faith and not works:
In order to have a clear understanding of justification we have to have a biblical conception of Grace. This is Grace as Paul defines it:
Romans 11:6 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
Works here are generalized and there is no reason in the context at all to limit these works to types of works rather than all works in general. Thus, we see that grace is such that it is incompatible with works. Another reason for thinking that grace excludes all works is Romans 6:1-2 because Paul could not ask this rhetorical question if the concept of grace were such that works could be mixed in with it:
Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Romans 4:16 tells us that the promise has to rest on faith because that is the only thing that is compatible with Grace. All this is really interesting, but how does it relate to the doctrine of justification? Well Paul makes it clear that we are justified by grace, which means not by works, but only faith:
Romans 3:23-24 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his *grace* as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Thus, justification is by grace and by the definition of grace: by faith alone.
2) Justification by faith apart from works:
The Bible out rightly claims that justification is by faith apart from works of law:
Romans 3:27-31 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Now many objectors to justification by faith alone are quick to point out that they do not see the phrase “works of law” as all works in general and thus this cannot be an argument for sola fide so they say. But the problem is that Paul connects his thoughts in this context from the exclusion of boasting and if any works could contribute to our justification then we would have grounds for boasting, but clearly Paul here would rule out types of boasting and therefore we have good reason to think this is referring to all types of works.
An even stronger argument for “works of law” meaning all works in general is that it fits Paul's argument and context better than any non-Protestant interpretation. The part of Paul's argument that I am referring here to is 3:31 where Paul asks the rhetorical question about whether we even need to follow the law in the first place if Paul's understanding of justification were to be correct. Paul’s view of justification is such that it leads one to ask this rhetorical question: If we really are justified by faith alone then do we need to follow the law? Paul answers that just because we are justified by faith alone we still need to follow the law, but that the following the law does not justify us. The Sola Fide understanding of this text is the most preferable than the alternative for this reason. For if the Roman or Eastern understanding were being taught here then Paul would have no reason to anticipate this question because Paul could have always said “well you need to follow other works and other laws for justification”. And clearly this is lacking from his teaching on works and justification.
3) The Justification of the ungodly:
The Bible clearly teaches that God justifies the ungodly:
Romans 4:5 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
Obviously someone who is ungodly is not actually righteous and has not done a sufficient amount of works to be right before God. But God legally counts him as righteous when he has faith. Now the East and Rome will be quick to point out that what justify here means is that God spiritually transforms the believer to make him pleasing to God, but the problem is that the Greek word for justify or “dikaioo” never means that. It either can mean to declare righteous someone that is actual righteous or not actually righteous, but legally so. It seems that given this passage that this is a declaration of righteousness on the ungodly thereby suggesting that the latter meaning (legal) is being used here rather than the former (actual). Thus, this word is being used here as a legal declaration in the context of a court room before God (Rom. 4:2).
4) Salvation is by Grace through Faith:
One of those most popular passages for proving sola fide has been Ephesians 2:8-9, it reads:
Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Christians have been saved, a past reality, by grace through faith and not by works. It could not be any clearer than this. The East and Rome have a hard time arguing that this is referring to only certain works here because salvation as a whole is by faith and grace which is not your own doing, but if we could achieve salvation by any works then it would be our own doing and therefore any works ought to be excluded. Paul in the end seals his argument with saying that because of all this no one can boast, but if this did not rule out all works then someone could boast, but Paul clearly would never intend for us to think that.
Therefore, since the earliest Christian testimony is clear that justification is by faith alone we should reject any works based systems like Mormonism, the Watch Tower, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, and Roman Catholicism. All of these views reject the Gospel of justification by faith alone. We have to remember that all false religions and Gospels are man centered and are not centered on the person and perfect work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the refutation of all the positive arguments that the East and Rome gives for believing their positions see the following blog posts: