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Two Kinds of Justification—Invisible and Visible?

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People often struggle with the apparent disagreement between Paul and James over justification. But there isn’t a disagreement between them because the Bible teaches two kinds of justification. As Paul said,

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God (Rom 4:2).

Paul, who repeatedly taught justification by faith apart from works (and who used Abraham as an example of that), could envision a justification by works. But he clarifies that justification by works could not be before God. But if not God, then before whom?

The answer is: it must be other people. And, of course, that makes perfect sense. Every law court in the world is based on justification by works.

So there are at least two justifications in the Bible, not one. And Wayne D. Mueller has a simple way of explaining how they’re different.

On the one hand, justification before God through faith is invisible:

“Justification by Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, is invisible. It was declared in the heart of God and received through faith in the heart of the believer. Although openly proclaimed in the gospel of Scripture, justification through faith is unseen by the world. Even Christians cannot see the presence of justification in one another’s hearts” (Mueller, Justification, p. 93).

On the other hand, justification before men through works is visible:

“Holy Scripture also teaches a visible justification. Although our fellow Christians and the world around us cannot see our faith, they can see the fruits of our faith. The products of our faith, namely, our good works, testify to the presence of the invisible faith in our hearts. Thus, we are visibly justified by works. Others regard us as righteous whenever good works show that we are believers” (p. 94).

That’s why you’re called to love the people around you. Your practical acts of love are like a light that shines upon God. As Jesus said:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

People can see your good works and recognize they’re from the Father. In other words, justification by works is visible.

Thought for the day: Do good to those around you because even the smallest lights can be seen in the dark of night.


3 comments on “Two Kinds of Justification—Invisible and Visible?”

  1. Hi Florin. Yes, my actions can demonstrate my beliefs to others. I can show that I really like the Montreal Canadians by attending their games, or I can show I believe in voting by lining up on election day to cast my ballot, etc.

    I can also demonstrate my faith to others through what I do. I can show I love the poor by feeding the hungry, or think evangelism is important by going door to door.

    Is it possible that I'm just being a hypocrite, or pretending to believe in those things? Yes. So the demonstration of my faith to others is never certain or infallible. I think that's part of the reason why our justification before God can never be based on works.

  2. Shawn, it would seem in one of those quotes in this article your saying that our works show that we are believers is that what you believe?

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