John Chrysostom (c. 344–407) was a fourth-century church leader who is best-known for his eloquent expository preaching. In fact, it was because of his oratorical gifts that he came to be known as “Chrysostom” which means “Golden Mouth.” As the bishop of Constantinople, he was one of the most influential church leaders of his day.
Because he preached verse-by-verse through most of the New Testament, it is relatively easy to discover Chrysostom’s perspective on key biblical texts. What follows, then, is a series of excerpts from Chrysostom’s sermons — centered around the theme of justification by faith alone.
1. Regarding the Faith of Abraham (in Genesis 15) —
The patriarch Abraham himself before receiving circumcision had been declared righteous on the score of faith alone: before circumcision, the text says, “Abraham believed God, and credit for it brought him to righteousness.”
(John Chrysostom, Cited from Fathers of the Church, Vol. 82, Homilies on Genesis 18-45, 27.7 [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1990], 167.)
2. Regarding Romans 4-5 —
Now since the Jews kept turning over and over the fact, that the Patriarch, and friend of God, was the first to receive circumcision, he wishes to show, that it was by faith that he too was justified. And this was quite a vantage ground to insist upon. For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light.
(John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Homily 8; re: Rom. 4:1–2.)
What is the “law of faith?” It is, being saved by grace. Here he shows God’s power, in that He has not only saved, but has even justified, and led them to boasting, and this too without needing works, but looking for faith only.
(John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, 7.27.)
3. Regarding Romans 11:6 —
Why then are you afraid of drawing nigh, since you have no works demanded of you?
. . . Let us then give thanks, that we belong to them that are being saved, and not having been able to save ourselves by works, were saved by the gift of God. But in giving thanks, let us not do this in words only, but in works and actions. For this is the genuine thanksgiving, when we do those things whereby God is sure to be glorified, and flee from those from which we have been set free.
(John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 11)
4. Regarding 1 & 2 Corinthians —
God allowed his Son to suffer as if a condemned sinner, so that we might be delivered from the penalty of our sins. This is God’s righteousness, that we are not justified by works (for then they would have to be perfect, which is impossible), but by grace, in which case all our sin is removed.
(John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 11:5; NPNF 1 12:334; ACCS NT 7:252; cited from Thomas Oden, The Justification Reader, 61.)
5. Regarding Galatians 3 —
And this he [Paul] removes, with great skill and prudence, turning their argument against themselves, and showing that those who relinquish the Law are not only not cursed, but blessed; and they who keep it, not only not blessed but cursed. They said that he who kept not the Law was cursed, but he proves that he who kept it was cursed, and he who kept it not, blessed. Again, they said that he who adhered to faith alone was cursed, but he shows that he who adhered to faith alone, is blessed. And how does he prove all this? for it is no common thing which we have promised; wherefore it is necessary to give close attention to what follows. He had already shown this, by referring to the words spoken to the Patriarch, ‘In thee shall all nations be blessed,’ (Genesis 12:4.) at a time, that is, when Faith existed, not the Law.
(John Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians, 3:8.).
6. Regarding Ephesians 2:8-9 —
Even faith, [Paul] says, is not from us. For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? “For how,” [Paul] says, “shall they believe if they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14). So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8c).
(John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians 2:8; IOEP 2:160; ACCS NT 8:134; cited from Thomas Oden, The Justification Reader, 44.)
For by faith alone He saved us. . . . Instead of a certain manner of life, He brought in faith. For that He might not save us to no purpose, He both Himself underwent the penalty, and also required of men the faith that is by doctrines
(John Chyrostom, Homily on Ephesians 2:11–12)
7. Regarding Ephesians 2:10 —
God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent.
(John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians, 4.2.9. cited from Mark J. Edwards, ed., ACCS, NT VI: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 134. See also John Chrysostom. F. Field, ed., Interpretatio omnium Epistolarum Paulinarum per Homilias Facta (Oxford J. H. Parker, 1845-1862), 2:160.)
8. Regarding Colossians 1:26–28 —
To have brought humanity, more senseless than stones, to the dignity of angels simply through bare words, and faith alone, without any hard work, is indeed a rich and glorious mystery. It is just as if one were to take a dog, quite consumed with hunger and the mange, foul and loathsome to see, and not so much as able to move but lying passed out, and make him all at once into a human being and to display him upon the royal throne.
(John Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians 1:26–28; Cited from Joel C. Elowsky, We Believe in the Holy Spirit, 98.)
9. Regarding 1 Timothy 1:15–16 —
For as people, on receiving some great good, ask themselves if it is not a dream, as not believing it; so it is with respect to the gifts of God. What then was it that was thought incredible? That those who were enemies and sinners, justified by neither the law nor works, should immediately through faith alone be advanced to the highest favor. On this head [topic] accordingly Paul has discoursed at length in his Epistle to the Romans, and here again at length. “This is a faithful saying,” he says, “ and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” As the Jews were chiefly attracted by this, he persuades them not to listen to the law, since they could not attain salvation by it without faith. Against this he contends, for it seemed to them incredible that a person who had misspent all his former life in vain and wicked actions should afterwards be saved by his faith alone. On this account he says, “It is a saying to be believed.”
(John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Timothy 1:15–16; cited from Joel C. Elowsky, We Believe in the Holy Spirit, 98.)