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Quotes About Faith Versus Works

Like the apostles, the early church fathers write positively of both faith and works. The clearest example of an early Christian praising faith apart from works in one chapter and requiring works in the next is the first two chapters of Polycarp's letter to the Philippians (below). 

Don't try to refute him for this, because the apostle Paul does the same thing, praising faith apart from works in Ephesians 2:8 and requiring works in Galatians 5:19-21 and 6:8-9. 

The explanation for the seeming contradiction in Paul's letter and Polycarp's can be found on my Sola Fide page.

I also have a quote page on the judgment and works.


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Clement of Rome, A.D. 96

Take heed, beloved, lest his many kindnesses lead to the condemnation of us all, unless we walk worthy of Him, and with one mind do those things which are good and well-pleasing in His sight. (1 Clement 21)

Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness ... all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. ... Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words. ... Let our praise be in God and not from ourselves, for God hates those that commend themselves. Let testimony to our good deeds be borne by others, as it was in the case of our righteous forefathers. Boldness, arrogance, and audacity belong to those that are accursed of God, but moderation, humility, and meekness to those that are blessed by Him. (1 Clement 30)

And we, too, being called by his will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have done in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (First Clement 32)

Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love, so that through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile" [Ps. 32:1-2]. This blessedness comes upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (1 Clement 50)

A Crucial Key to Understanding These Quotes

Both in the Scriptures and in the writings of the pre-Nicene (prior to the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325) Church, we see a consistent pattern of teaching. As you look through the pre-Nicene quotes on this page, note this pattern. When being born again is at issue, then faith, the forgiveness of sins, and the death of Christ are mentioned, and they're talked about in the past tense. When going to heaven is being discussed, then works, judgment, and inheriting the kingdom are mentioned, and the discussion is in the future tense.

It is this dichotomy that confuses modern Bible interpreters. Learn this, and you will never struggle with the faith vs. works issue again.

Ignatius, A.D. 110

You have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions ye enjoin [on others]. Only pray both inward and outward strength for me, so that I may not only speak, but also be willing; and that I may not merely be called a Christian, but really be found to be one. For if I be truly found [a Christian], I may also be called one, and be then deemed faithful. (Letter to the Romans 3)

For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end. (Letter to the Ephesians 14)

Do not err, my brothers.  Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this in regard to the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becomes defiled and shall go away into everlasting fire. So shall every one that listens to him. (Letter to the Ephesians 16)

For this end did the Lord suffer the ointment to be poured upon His head, that he might breathe immortality into His Church. Be not ye anointed with the bad odor of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us? (Letter to the Ephesians 17)

Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven and the glorious angels and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they do not believe in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Do not let status puff any one up, for that which is worth all is faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.(Letter to the Smyrneans 2)

I trust in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall free you from every bond. And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. I heard some saying, "If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel." On my saying to them, "It is written," they answered me, "That remains to be proved." But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, death, resurrection, and the faith which is by him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified. (Letter to the Philadelphians 8)

Let us not be unaware of his kindness. Were he to reward us according to our works, we would cease to be. Therefore, having become his disciples, let us learn to live according to Christianity. (Letter to the Magnesians 10)

Labor together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards and associates and servants of God. Please him under whom you fight and from whom you receive your wages. (Letter to Polycarp 6)

Polycarp, A.D. 110-150

In whom, though now you do not see him, you believe, and believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory [1 Pet. 1:8]. Into this joy many desire to enter, knowing that by grace you are saved, not of works [Eph. 2:8], but by the will of God through Jesus Christ. (Letter to the Philippians, par. 1, brackets mine)

He who raised [Jesus] up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do his will, walk in his commandments, love what he loved, keep ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, and false witness, not rendering evil for evil, railing for railing [1 Pet. 3:9], blow for blow, or cursing for cursing. (Letter to the Philippians, par. 2, brackets mine)

Pseudo-Barnabas, A.D. 120 - 130

Each person will receive as he has done. If he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him. If he is wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting at our ease as those who are the called ones, we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince should acquire power over us and thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. (Letter of Barnabas 4)

Letter to Diognetus, A.D. 80 - 200

For God has loved mankind. He made the world on his account … He has promised him a kingdom in heaven, and he will give it to those who have loved Him. (ch. 10)

2 Clement (or An Early Christian Sermon), A.D. 100 - 150

Let us, then, repent with our whole heart, that none of us may perish needlessly. For if we have commands and  engage in withdrawing from idols and instructing others, then how much more should we not perish because we already know God.

     Let us therefore help one another and lift up the weak in what is good so that all of us may be saved, convert, and admonish one another.

     Let us not only seem to believe and pay attention when we are admonished by the elders, but let us also remember the commandments of the Lord when we return home. Let us not be allured away by worldly lusts, but let us draw near to one another very often in order to try to make progress in the Lord's commands. In this way, when we all have the same mind, we will be gathered together for life, for the Lord said, "I come to gather all nations and languages."

     This refers to the day of his appearing, when he will come and redeem us—each one according to his works. The unbelievers will see his glory and might, and when they see the empire of the world in Jesus, they will be surprised. They will say, "Woe to us, because you were, and we did not know you, did not believe, and did not obey the elders who clearly explain our salvation."

     "Their worm shall not die, nor shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be a spectacle to all flesh" (Is. 66:24).

     He speaks of the great day of judgment, when they shall see those among us who were guilty of ungodliness and erred in their estimate of the commands of Jesus Christ.

     The righteous will have succeeded both in enduring the trials and hating the indulgences of the soul. They will give glory to God when they witness how those who have swerved and denied Jesus by words or deeds are punished with grievous torments in unquenchable fire. They will give glory to their God and say, "There will be hope for him who has served God with his whole heart." (Second Clement 17)

Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 155

We have been taught and are convinced and do believe that [God] accepts those only who imitate the excellences which reside in him—temperance, justice, and philanthropy—and as many virtues as are peculiar to a God who is called by no proper name. (First Apology 10)

We hold this view, that it is equally impossible for the wicked, the covetous, the conspirator, and for the virtuous to escape the notice of God, and that each man goes to everlasting punishment or salvation according to the value of his actions. If all men knew this, no one would choose wickedness even for a little while, knowing that he goes to the everlasting punishment of fire. Instead, he would restrain himself by any means and adorn himself with virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments. (First Apology 12)

We have been taught that in the beginning [God]—of his goodness, for man's sake—created all things out of unformed matter, and if men by their works show themselves worthy of this his design, they are deemed worthy—and so we have received—of reigning in company with him, being delivered from corruption and suffering. For as in the beginning he created us when we did not exist, so we think that, in the same way, those who choose what is pleasing to him are, because of their choice, deemed worthy of incorruption and of fellowship with him. (First Apology 10)

Hermas, c. AD 170

You are saved because you did not depart from the living God and because of your simplicity and great self-control. These have saved you, if you remain steadfast, and they will save all who act in the same way and walk in guilelessness and simplicity. Those who possess such virtues will grow strong against every form of wickedness and will remain to eternal life. (Shepherd of Hermas. Vision Third. Ch. 3.)

The first of them, who is clasping her hands, is called Faith. Through her the elect of God are saved. Another, who has her garments tucked up and acts with vigor, is called Self-restraint. She is the daughter of Faith. Whoever follows her will become happy in this life because he will restrain himself from all evil works, believing that if he restrain himself from all evil desire, he will inherit eternal life. (Shepherd of Hermas. Vision Third. Ch. 8.)

“Listen,” says he, “to the good deeds which you ought to do, and in regard to which there is no self-restraint requisite. First of all there is faith, then fear of the Lord, love, concord, words of righteousness, truth, patience. Than these, nothing is better in the life of men. If any one attend to these, and restrain himself not from them, blessed is he in his life. Then there are the following attendant on these: helping widows, looking after orphans and the needy, rescuing the servants of God from necessities, the being hospitable—for in hospitality good-doing finds a field—never opposing any one, the being quiet, having fewer needs than all men, reverencing the aged, practising righteousness, watching the brotherhood, bearing insolence, being long-suffering, encouraging those who are sick in soul, not casting those who have fallen into sin from the faith, but turning them back and restoring them to peace of mind, admonishing sinners, not oppressing debtors and the needy, and if there are any other actions like these." (Shepherd of Hermas, Commandment Eighth)

The Lord, having had compassion on all men, has sent me [i.e., the Angel of Repentance] to give repentance, although some are not worthy of it because of their works; however, the Lord, being patient, desires those who were called by his Son to be saved. (Shepherd of Hermas. Similitude 8th. Ch. 11.)

Irenaeus, A.D. 183 – 186

As far as the apostasy is concerned, he indeed redeems us from it righteously, by his own blood; but in regard to us who have been redeemed, graciously. For we have given nothing to him in advance, nor does he desire anything from us, as though he stood in need of it, but we do stand in need of fellowship with him. It was for this reason that he poured himself out, so that he might gather us into the bosom of the Father. (Against Heresies V:2:1)

For one is the way leading upwards for all who see, lightened with heavenly light: but many and dark and contrary are the ways of them that see not. This way leads to the kingdom of heaven, uniting man to God: but those ways bring down to death, separating man from God. Wherefore it is needful for you and for all who care for their own salvation to make your course unswerving, firm and sure by means of faith, that you falter not, nor be retarded and detained in material desires, nor turn aside and wander from the right. (The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. Transl. by Robinson, Armitage D.D. PDF. [NY:MacMillan Co., 1920] Par. 1.)

41. ... these were the apostles, who after (receiving) the power of the Holy Spirit were sent forth by Him into all the world, and wrought the calling of the Gentiles, showing to mankind the way of life, to turn them from idols and fornication and covetousness, cleansing their souls and bodies by the baptism of water and of the Holy Spirit; which Holy Spirit they had received of the Lord, and they distributed and imparted It to them that believed; and thus they ordered and established the Churches. By faith and love and hope they established that which was foretold by the prophets, the calling of the Gentiles, according to the mercy of God which was extended to them; bringing it to light through the ministration of their service, and admitting them to the promise of the fathers: to wit, that to those who thus believed in and loved the Lord, and continued in holiness and righteousness and patient endurance, the God of all had promised to grant eternal life by the resurrection of the dead; through Him who died and rose again, Jesus Christ, to whom He has delivered over the kingdom of all existing things, and, the rule of quick and dead, and also the judgment. And they counseled them by the word of truth to keep their flesh undefiled unto the resurrection and their soul unstained.

42. For such is the state of those who have believed, since in them continually abides the Holy Spirit, who was given by Him in baptism, and is retained by the receiver, if he walks in truth and holiness and righteousness and patient endurance. For this soul has a resurrection in them that believe, the body receiving the soul again, and along with it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being raised up and entering into the kingdom of God. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 41-42, c. 170-190)

Clement of Alexandria, c. A.D. 190

He that fell from Paradise [i.e., Adam/man] receives as the reward of obedience something greater, namely heaven itself.  (Exhortation to the Heathen 11)

We are therefore to love him equally with God. And he loves Christ Jesus who does his will and keeps his commandments. "For not every one that says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father" (Matt. 7:21); and "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not the things which I say?" [Luke 6:46] (Who Is the Rich Man Who Will Be Saved 29)

Origen, c. AD 240

Since many saints participate in the Holy Spirit, he cannot therefore be understood to be a body, which being divided into corporeal parts, is partaken of by each one of the saints. Instead, he is manifestly a sanctifying power, in which all are said to have a share who have deserved to be sanctified by his grace. (De Principiis I:1:3)

We must keep in mind that we are judged at the divine tribunal not on our faith alone as if we did not have to answer for our conduct (cf. James 2.24), nor on our conduct alone as if our faith were not subject to examination. It is from the correctness of both that we are justified; it is from the noncorrectness of both that we are punished for both. But there are some who will not be punished for both but for one of the two; some will be punished for defective faith, but not for an incorrect life, while others will not be punished for their faith but will be punished for a life lived contrary to right reason. . . . If then we wish to be saved, let us not, in our commitment to the faith, be negligent of our practical conduct, nor, conversely, be overconfident of our conduct. It is from both that we know, understand, believe, and will have our reward and beatitude, or their opposite. ("Dialogue with Heraclides" 8-9, in <cite>Ancient Christian Writers</cite>, vol. 54, p. 64. Thank you to Stephen Wipf for sharing this in his "Early Church Teachings" Facebook group)

Cyprian, c. A.D. 250

How can a man say that he believes in Christ, who does not do what Christ commanded him to do? Or whence shall he attain to the reward of faith, who will not keep the faith of the commandment? (On the Unity of the Church 2)

Those whom [Satan] cannot keep in the darkness of the old way, he circumvents and deceives by the error of a new way. He snatches men from the Church itself; and while they seem to themselves to have already approached to the light, and to have escaped the night of the world, he pours over them again, in their unconsciousness, new darkness; so that, although they do not stand firm with the Gospel of Christ, and with the observation and law of Christ, they still call themselves Christians.

   Walking in darkness, they think that they have the light, while the adversary is flattering and deceiving, who, according to the apostle's word, transforms himself into an angel of light, and equips his ministers as if they were the ministers of righteousness. They maintain night instead of day, death for salvation, despair under the offer of hope, perfidy under the pretext of faith, antichrist under the name of Christ; so that, while they feign things like the truth, they make void the truth by their subtlety. (On the Unity of the Church 3)

John Chrysostom, d. A.D. 407

Here then he says there are two mortifyings, and two deaths, and that ane is done by Christ in Baptism, and the other it is our duty to effect by earnestness afterwards. For that our former sins were buried, came of his gift, but the remaining death to sin after baptism must be the work of our own earnestness, however much we find God here also giving us large help. For this is not the only thing Baptism has the power to do, to obliterate our former transgressions, for it also secures against subsequent ones. As then in the case of the former, thy contribution was faith that they might be obliterated, so also in those subsequent to this, show forth the change in your alms, that you may not defile yourself again. (John Chrysostom, Homily 11 on Romans 6:5) 

Pope Leo I (the Great), A.D. 440-461

The blessed Apostle says, "By grace ye have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves but it is the gift of God; not of works lest any should perchance be exalted. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus in good works, which GOD prepared that we should walk in them" [Eph. 2:8-10]. Thus every bestowal of good works is of God's preparing: because a man is justified by grace rather than by his own excellence: for grace is to every one the source of righteousness, the source of good and the fountain of merit. (Letter I:II)

Mark the Ascetic, 5th century

Martin Luther, 1517 - 1546

See salvation by faith alone quotes by Martin Luther.

Ian/John Fletcher, d. 1785

This is the plan of this work, in which I equally fight pro aris et focis, for faith and works, for gratuitous mercy and impartial justice; reconciling all along Christ our Saviour with Christ our Judge, heated Augustine with Pelagius, free grace with free will; Divine goodness with human obedience, the faithfulness of God's promises with the veracity of his threatening, FIRST and SECOND causes, the original merits of Christ with the derived worthiness of his members, and God's foreknowledge with our free agency. (Antidote to Antinomianism as contained in The Works of Reverend John Fletcher - Volume 2, loc. 170 of 16211, all emphasis original)

George MacDonald, 1875

Is Christianity a system of articles of belief, let them be as correct as language can give them? Never. So far am I from believing it, that I would rather have a man holding, as numbers of you do, what seems to me the most obnoxious truths, opinions the most irreverent and gross, if at the same time he lived in the faith of the Son of God, that is, trusted in God as the Son of God trusted in him, than I would have a man with every one of whose formulas I utterly coincided, but who knew nothing of a daily life and walk with God. The one, holding doctrines of devils, is yet a child of God; the other, holding the doctrines of Christ and his Apostles, is of the world, yea, of the devil. (Unspoken Sermons: Series I, II, and III, p. 389)

While the mind is occupied in enquiring, "Do I believe or feel this thing right?" the true question is forgotton: "Have I left all to follow him?"

   To the man who gives himself to the living Lord, every belief will necessarily come aright. The Lord himself will see that his disciple believe aright concerning him. (The Truth in Jesus [Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse; 2007] p. 60-61, italics in original)

Do you ask, "What is faith in him?"

   I answer, the leaving of your way, your objects, your self, and the taking of his and him. It is the leaving of your trust in men, in money, in opinion, in character, in atonement itself, and doing as he tells you. (The Truth in Jesus [Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse; 2007] p. 61, italics in original)

If you do nothing that [Jesus] says, it is no wonder that you cannot trust in him and are therefore driven to seek refuge in the atonement as if something he had done, and not he himself in his doing were the atonement. (The Truth in Jesus [Minneapolis, MN: BethanyHouse; 2007] p. 66-67)

Philip Schaff, 1882

If any one expects to find in this period [i.e., Ante-Nicene period], or in any of the church fathers, Augustin [who's not Ante-Nicene, so I'm not sure why Schaff mentions him] himself not excepted, the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, as the "articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae," he will be greatly disappointed. The incarnation of the Logos, his true divinity and true humanity, stand almost unmistakably in the foreground, as the fundamental truths. Paulís doctrine of justification, except perhaps in Clement of Rome, who joins it with the doctrine of James, is left very much out of view, and awaits the age of the Reformation to be more thoroughly established and understood. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. II, sec. 154)

Charles Spurgeon, d. 1891

We cannot be sure when we build that every stone we place upon the foundation is well and truly laid there, “The Lord knows them that are His.” But we have this mark to guide us—those who truly name the name of Christ depart from all iniquity. “By their fruits you shall know them.” We are to use judgement in our building, and this is the rule of it—we must look for holiness in every real convert, for, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” It is labor in vain to build those into the visible church who are not sanctified in the spirit of their minds. In doctrine also, it is in vain to preach unless our doctrine is according to godliness. A holy God will not dwell with an unholy people. If the foundation is holy, so must the building be. (1885. "The Foundation and Its Seal: A Sermon for Our Times." Sermon #1854. Retrieved on May 24, 2017 from

Leonard Ravenhill d. 1994

You know, we live in a day when we are more afraid of holiness than we are of sinfulness. (unknown, cited by Revival School)

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