Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ to all and on all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
"We abhor the doctrine of 'justification by works' as a most perilous and abominable doctrine. And though no one is a real Christian believer who doth not good works ... our works have no part in meriting or purchasing our justification, from first to last, either in whole or in part."
The doctrine of justification has a central role in church history and in distinguishing biblical Christianity from all other religions. A discussion about the gospel and its salvation must address the meaning and significance of this doctrine. An incorrect understanding of justification can corrupt the gospel, undermine the foundation of the Christian life, and make assurance of salvation impossible.
This is perhaps the most important doctrine in all of Christian theology. This doctrine is the cause of the Reformation, the split between the Protestant churches and Catholic Church. This doctrine is a key difference between biblical Christianity and most of the "Christian" cults.
Justification is God's act by which a sinner who believes in Jesus Christ as Savior is declared righteous before God because Christ's righteousness is imputed to him. Justification refers to being vindicated before God such that we have a new standing with Him because He declares that we are no longer guilty as sinners. Not only is guilt and its condemnation removed, but God's righteousness is imputed to us.
Justification happens in an instant and results in the reason, the basis, power, and motivation to grow in righteousness. This growth is called progressive sanctification (to set apart for special use or purpose, the act of God's grace by which the soul is cleansed from sin and consecrated to God). In justification, we are accepted by God into the blessing of eternal life. He pronounces us to be in possession of His blessing of eternal life and, by this pronouncement, causes us to be in actual possession of this blessing. We are given a title to eternal life, we possess the right to live forever in God's blessing with access to His presence. Justification is not the experience of the blessing of eternal life but is rather the right to have the experience of eternal life.
The perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is the sole basis of our right to eternal life. Faith is the sole means of receiving it. That faith results in an obedient life by performing good works. But that obedience is in no way the reason for justification. Our good works are the evidence that we have true faith, but not the reason for our title to eternal life.
Paul, in Romans 3:28, says, "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." James, in James 2:24, says, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone."
John Piper (theologian, pastor, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota) writes:
"For Paul, 'justification by works' (which he rejects) means 'gaining right standing with God by the merit of works.' For James, 'justification by works' (which he accepts) means 'maintaining a right standing with God by faith along with the necessary evidence of faith, namely, the works of love.'
These two positions are not contradictory. Faith alone unites us to Christ for righteousness, and the faith that unites us to Christ for righteousness does not remain alone. It bears the fruit of love. It must do so or it is dead, demon, useless faith and does not justify."
James is not saying that justification is by faith plus works, but rather that a person who is truly justified by faith will perform good works in his/her life. If a person claims to be a believer, but has no good works in his/her life, then he/she likely does not have genuine faith in Christ (James 2:14, 17, 20, 26).
So, no contradiction.
Justification separates biblical Christianity from every other religion. It separated, in the Reformation, Protestants from Roman Catholics. If it is surrendered, the Christian religion becomes like every other performance based religion of the world. It is therefore a doctrine important enough to understand, teach, and celebrate.
Let us never forget that it is only through Christ Jesus that we have been justified, and not through our own works alone.