Truth 1: No person is justified before God by doing any good works, making any commitments to stop any sin, or committing to follow the Lord.
While it is true, that God used many different men to give us His word, and that their life experiences and personalities are reflected to some degree in their writings, that does not change the fact that God is the ultimate source of every word in the scriptures. It is His “breath” passing through these instruments that is the ultimate source of every word. God’s Spirit guiding Paul cannot be in conflict with His guidance of John, therefore, we need to start with the basic conviction that this passage can be reconciled with every other passage in the Bible, and that when set side by side their complementary nature will be more clear, not less.
John is not teaching that we or any other person is justified before God in part or in total by doing good, committing to becoming good, or by staying good. The scriptures teach that no person is justified before God by doing any good works, making any commitments to stop any sin, or committing to follow the Lord. Let’s look at just a few of the many passages from which we draw this statement. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us: “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Four critical words of phrases should catch our attention. The word grace means, unmerited favor. If we have been saved by grace, then that salvation was not rooted in any part in something that we did are doing or will do. Justification before God is rooted entirely in the work and goodness of Christ, and not in the work or goodness of the one who has been justified. It is our union with Christ that gave us that righteous declaration. Next we see the phrase “through faith.” Faith is an interesting word, because it describes a condition of the heart that is the antithesis to self-reliance. Faith relies on the strength, work, and word of another. Faith is the disposition of humility and vulnerability, not arrogance. Next we see that our salvation is “not of yourselves.” There is nothing in us that makes us acceptable. It is all the work of God. Lastly we see that it is called the gift of God. Gifts are free to the recipient at the expense of the giver. The nature of our justification can be described as grace, a gift, not of ourselves, and through faith. We see a similar explanation in Titus 3:5 where it says; “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Again, all the work is done by God. Romans 3:20 “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Again the law does not serve as a ladder to climb to God, but rather a lens to magnify our sinfulness and spiritual bankruptness. And lastly, I mention Romans 4:4-6. It says: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” No person is justified before God by doing any good works, making any commitments to stop any sin, or committing to follow the Lord. We are justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, and the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ, not our faith, our faithfulness to the law, or any other meritorious activity. John’s statement is not inconsistent with or in opposition to this Bible doctrine.