Archive for the ‘Justification’ Category

How does one know he or she is a Christian?

Many who believe that the gospel is true, and would say Jesus died and rose again for the sins of the world, often still have a most difficult time believing this gospel is true for them personally. So they labor under a painful conscience and eventually give up hope of every finding a remedy. What can one do? Is there any hope for one like this?

The answer is most certainly, Yes!

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes out the only prescription:

To make it quite practical let me say that there is a very simple way of testing yourself to know whether you believe that. We betray ourselves by what we say. The Lord Himself said we should be justified by our words, and how true it is. I have often had to deal with this point with people, and I have explained the way of justification by faith and told them how it is all in Christ, and that God puts His righteousness upon us. I have explained it all to them, and then I have said: ‘Well, now are you quite happy about it, do you believe that?’ And they say, ‘Yes’. Then I say: ‘Well, then, you are now ready to say that you are a Christian’. And they hesitate. And I know they have not understood. Then I say: ‘What is the matter, why are you hesitating?’ And they say: ‘I do not feel that I am good enough’…. They are still thinking in terms of themselves; their idea still is that they have to make themselves good enough to be a Christian, good enough to be accepted with Chirst. They have to do it! ‘I am not good enough.’ It sounds very modest, but it is the lie of the devil, it is a denial of the faith. You think that you are being humble. But you will never be good enough; nobody has ever been good eough. The essence of the Christian salvation is to say that He is good enough and that I am in Him! – Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and its Cure (1965), 33-4.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been reading through The Marrow of Modern Divinity and have found it wonderfully helpful! Let’s face it, covenant theology isn’t exactly the easiest thing to figure out. There are always those nagging questions. E.g.: Was Israel really in some sort of ‘covenant of works’? What is the exact difference between the ‘law’ and the ‘gospel’? Where do works come into the equation of our salvation?

These and many other issues are intuitively addressed and ingenuously explained in this brilliant volume of singularly masterful 17th century English literature. This is both a piece of art and a work of theology. The author (Edward Fisher) has drawn form a broad spectrum of reformed divinity on covenant theology and then translated it (as it were) into very laymen’s terms. This is both church history and biblical exegesis, wrapped into engaging dialogues between four characters: “Evangelista,” “Antinomista,” “Nomista,” and “Neophytus.” The following is an excerpt regarding The Natural Bias Towards the Covenant of Works:

Alas! there are thousands in the world that make a Christ of their works; and here is their undoing, &c. They look for righteousness and acceptation more in the precept than in the promise, in the law than the gospel, in working than in believing; and so miscarry. Many poor ignorant souls amongst us, when we bid them obey and do duties, they can think of nothing but working themselves to life; when they are troubled, they must lick themselves whole, when wounded, they must run to the salve of duties, and stream of performances, and neglect Christ. Nay, it is to be feared that there be divers [many] who in words are able to distinguish between the law and gospel, and in their judgments hold and maintain, that man is justified by faith without the works of the law; and yet in effect and practice, that is to say, in heart and conscience, do otherwise. [1] And there is some touch of this in us all; otherwise we should not be so up and down in our comforts and believing as we are still, and cast down with every weakness as we are. [2]

Thomas Boston’s Notes:
[1] It is indeed the practice of every unregenerate man, whatever be his knowledge or professed principles; for the contrary practice is the practice of the saints, and of them only, “Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). “We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
[2] For these follow from our building so much on something in ourselves, which is always very variable; and so little on the “grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1), which is an immovable foundation.
The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus, Scotland: 2009), 101, 106.

Sinclair Ferguson says of this book:

Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in the Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself. I personally owe it a huge debt.

Need I say more? “Pick up and read,” my friend. Pick up and read!

Read Full Post »

Beautiful words, well-worth reading. From Guido de Bres and the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561):

Article 22. Our Justification Through Faith in Jesus Christ

We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits, appropriates Him, and seeks nothing more besides Him. For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in Him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him. Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides Him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.

Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from the deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28). However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

Article 23. Wherein Our Justification Before God Consists

We believe that our salvation consists in the remission of our sins for Jesus Christ’s sake, and that therein our righteousness before God is implied; as David and Paul teach us, declaring this to be the blessedness of man that God imputes righteousness apart from works (Rom 4:6; Ps. 32:1). And the same apostle says that we are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24).

And therefore we always hold fast this foundation, ascribing all the glory to God, humbling ourselves before Him, and acknowledging ourselves to be such as we really are, without presuming to trust in any thing in ourselves, or in any merit of ours, relying and resting upon the obedience of Christ crucified alone, which becomes ours when we believe in Him. This is sufficient to cover all our iniquities, and to give us confidence in approaching to God; freeing the conscience of fear, terror, and dread, without following the example of our first father, Adam, who, trembling, attempted to cover himself with fig leaves. And, verily, if we should appear before God, relying on ourselves or on any other creature, though ever so little, we should, alas! be consumed. And therefore every one must pray with David: O Lord, do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no one living is righteous (Ps. 143:2).

Read Full Post »

How can God have mercy on us sinful wretches? The story of David and his sin against Bathsheba, Uriah, and most of all God (2 Sam 11-12), tells us of how God’s mercy extends further than we could have imagined.  This was adultery and murder — not something God could just “wink” at. In fact, God cannot wink at any sin. However, in the Mosaic system God had set up a system of sacrifice that allowed for the forgiveness of various sins. Thus, people would bring a sacrificial animal for this purpose. But what is most interesting and important for us in this story is that not every kind of sin was forgivable in the Mosaic system. Adultery and premeditated murder, in this case, had no sacrifice for sin.

In 1 Sam 12, Nathan the prophet comes along and tells David the parable about a certain man and his beloved little lamb. And then he explains how this lamb was stolen from his master and killed by an evil neighbor. Upon hearing all this, David pronounces judgment: “That man deserves to die.”

“You are the man,” says Nathan. The prophet then declares everything God had done for David and yet how David had despised the word of the LORD and done what is evil in his sight. And when David hears this, he confesses. “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan replies, “God has taken away your sin, you are not going to die.” What? How could he say that? There would still be consequences for David. But he had received forgiveness. How could this be?

As mentioned before, in the Mosaic system, there was no sacrifice for adultery, no sacrifice for murder. In short, there was no way of dealing with this extent of pollution. There was really no way for David to be forgiven, nothing that would allow him to be right before. Within the Mosaic system, David was a dead man. The King of Israel, the people of God, stood condemned — accountable to die. And yet God declares that he is forgiven. What is this? This was clearly a ‘new mercy’, a new kind of forgiveness. In Psalm 51, we read there was no “desire for sacrifice.” And indeed, for there was no sacrifice to bring.

God was going above and beyond what had been demonstrated before. This was not a mercy that was shown to Eli and his house, or to Saul and his house. This was something new — and amazing. And thus David could say, “Blessed is the man whom the LORD does not impute iniquity” (Ps. 32.2) and Paul :

…just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin (Rom. 4:6-8).

God was slowly revealing himself and the great extent of his love for us. Here is a mercy greater than which could never be conceived! Such was God’s love for David (and all the elect) that he would see to it that there would be a way of forgiveness. And at the proper time, God sent his only begotten Son to become the lamb who would be slain for the forgiveness of all our sins.

Oh how great is the love and mercy of God.  And yet we see how God slowly reveals himself overtime, through redemptive history. This is the God we worship — one who reveals himself in stories like this.

— (This was adapted from a lecture by Joshua Van Ee in Historical Books, Spring 2011)

Read Full Post »

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake (1 John 2:12 ESV).

Can we ever emphasize the forgiveness of sins too much?

Some might think we can. The concern is that by focussing too much on the cross, we won’t be able to move on to things which pertain to our ‘new life’ in Christ. Such a continual emphasis on the sin-atoning, wrath-turning, law-satisfying, penalty-paying, work of Christ is thought to short-circut the very life it intends to bring about. If we’re always thinking of the “Lamb who was slain”, will we not overlook the Son in resurrected and ascended glory?

But what I believe this concern overlooks is the sad but true fact that we ever remain painfully sinful in this life. For this reason, we can never ‘move past’ our need for the cross. We must ever come back to that fount of every blessing.  As long as we trudge this pilgrim land, all right worship of God will naturally flow from our continual forgiveness and assurance of pardon at the foot of the cross. In fact, it is every practice which assumes the contrary, that in the end, will circumvent sanctification.

Only by continually beginning, and returning, to the cross will the ‘new life’ and sanctity which we so desire take solid root. For there is no other way to relate to God, except through the perfect work (life, death, and resurrection) of Christ.  In fact, God’s grace-mercy-favor rests upon us for this reason and this reason alone–even the merits of Christ.

Similarly, Calvin understood that faith, not works, must be that foundation for all of our confidence before God. Faith, not works, is that wellspring from which every other saving grace flows. Unlike many who have attempted to mix faith and works as the ground or foundation of our confidence before God, we must rightly give the priority to faith alone. Justification must have the logical priority over sanctification. We must begin our hourly, daily, and weakly journey from our gracious entry point in the Sabboth rest of justification by faith alone. For it is the Lord who sanctifies us.

Calvin comments on 1 John 2:12:

…lest the preceding exhortation should obscure the free remission of sins, he [John] again inculcates the doctrine which peculiarly belongs to faith, in order that the foundation may with certainty be always retained, that salvation is laid up for us in Christ alone.

Holiness of life ought indeed to be urged, the fear of God ought to be carefully enjoined, men ought to be sharply goaded to repentance, newness of life, together with its fruits, ought to be commended; but still we ought ever to take heed, lest the doctrine of faith be smothered, — that doctrine which teaches that Christ is the only author of salvation and of all blessings; on the contrary, such moderation ought to be presented, that faith may ever retain its own primacy. This is the rule prescribed to us by John: having faithfully spoken of good works, lest he should seem to give them more importance than he ought to have done, he carefully calls us back to contemplate the grace of Christ.

Your sins are forgiven you Without this assurance, religion would not be otherwise than fading and shadowy; nay, they who pass by the free remission of sins, and dwell on other things, build without a foundation. John in the meantime intimates, that nothing is more suitable to stimulate men to fear God than when they are rightly taught what blessing Christ has brought to them, as Paul does, when he beseeches by the bowels of God’s mercies.

It hence appears how wicked is the calumny of the Papists, who pretend that the desire of doing what is right is frozen, when that is extolled which alone renders us obedient children to God. For the Apostle takes this as the ground of his exhortation, that we know that God is so benevolent to us as not to impute to us our sins.

For his name’s sake The material cause is mentioned, lest we should seek other means to reconcile us to God. For it would not be sufficient to know that God forgives us our sins, except we came directly to Christ, and to that price which he paid on the cross for us. And this ought the more to be observed, because we see that by the craft of Satan, and by the wicked fictions of men, this way is obstructed; for foolish men attempt to pacify God by various satisfactions, and devise innumerable kinds of expiations for the purpose of redeeming themselves. For as many means of deserving pardon we intrude on God, by so many obstacles are we prevented from approaching him. Hence John, not satisfied with stating simply the doctrine, that God remits to us our sins, expressly adds, that he is propitious to us from a regard to Christ, in order that he might exclude all other reasons. We also, that we may enjoy this blessing, must pass by and forget all other names, and rely only on the name of Christ. – Calvin’s Commentaries

Read Full Post »

Have you been wondering what all this talk about the Federal Vision theology is about? Have you heard about the so called “New Perspectives on Paul” but only read enough to get more confused? Have you seen, perhaps, firsthand some of the division in the church that has arisen around these ideas?   Have you been wanting to sharpen your understanding on the doctrine of justification, and what it really means to be justified by faith alone?

Well, if you’ve answered yes to any or all of the above questions, then you’ll be interested in the following:

Modern Reformation and the White Horse Inn have just published and released their first book entitled Justified. It is edited by Michael Horton and Ryan Glomsrud and is a compilation of some of the best articles on the subject that were published in Modern Reformation over the last several years. It also includes a new paper that Horton is presenting at ETS 2010 responding to NT Wright. Visit the White Horse Inn page here for more information.

Read Full Post »

Have you ever considered how the idea of reformation is actually a very popular part of everyday life? Think about it. On the news, in the papers, and at school, we’re alway hearing about reforming this or reforming that.  Whether it’s education reform, tax reform, tort reform, healthcare reform, you name it. Reformation is a big deal. And it was the same way during the Protestant Reformation as well.

Toward the end of the middle ages, there was huge a push toward what can best be described as ‘moral reform.’ The fact is, people in those days (not so different from our own) were in the habit of misbehaving. And so Renaissance humanist leaders like Erasmus (d. 1536) led the cause for shaping people up. It was broadly understood that people’s main problem was that they were immoral and thus needed to be taught better manners. And although many of these humanist leaders were themselves part of the Catholic church, they didn’t want to focus on doctrine so much. Their great concern was to make sure people lived better, more upstanding, lives in society.

Cutting a sharply contrary line in the sand, the Protestant Reformation offered a radically different message.  The Reformers recognized that no matter how big man’s problems might be, no matter how messed up his social ills, no matter how bad his manners, indeed no matter how much social reformation may indeed have to be done, the greatest, most primary and acute problem for man in all the world is his sin before God.

This was as classic case of ‘cutting to the chase.’ Yes, man is a mess! But any and all attempts at fixing him are like putting a bandaid on a mortal wound. Before man can make any progress before God and with his neighbor, he must first deal with his guilt. His sin is a big deal — no, it is the big deal. And this was the storm center of the Protestant Reformation, the eye of the hurricane that would rock history. And it was forensic in character. Man needed righteousness before God his maker, and all he had was guilt.

Standing himself, with this question, too, before the face of God, the Calvinist was so impressed with the holiness of God that the consciousness of guilt immediately lacerated his soul, and the terrible nature of sin pressed on his heart as with an intolerable weight….

To the de profundis (Latin “out of the depths” from Ps. 130) with which, thirty centuries ago, the soul of David cried unto God, the troubled soul of every child of God in the sixteenth century still sounded a response with undiminished power. The conception of the corruption of sin as the source of all human misery was nowhere more profound than in Calvin’s environment. – Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, p. 55.

Guilt before man is bad enough. But guilt before God leaves no way of progress anywhere else. It is the cause of every evil and sinful thing. It is even the cause of our relative guilt before other men.  For, if we remember in the beginning (Gen. 3), after incurring guilt before God, Adam and Eve also felt shame between themselves.  Forensic, judicial, legal, guilt, therefore, is at the root of all other sin and the cause of every subsequent relational and social evil. If we have guilt before God, we cannot love our neighbor. And most importantly, if we have guilt before God, we cannot love and worship our Maker, who is to be forever praised. Amen!

And this, we see, is where the Protestant Reformation entered upon the scene proclaiming (with Paul and all those other faithful witnesses who had gone before) a righteousness that is from faith onto faith (cf. Rom. 1:17). A righteousness that is entirely a gift of God (Rom 5:16-18) by grace alone (Eph. 2:8), to be received through faith alone (Rom. 4:6), in Christ alone.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:21-22).

Read Full Post »

The first question (taken up last week) in the Heidelberg Catechism was: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

The second question regards how we come to that comfort. It asks: “How many things are necessary for you to know, that in this comfort you may live and die happily?” And then it goes on to say there are “Three things: First, the greatness of my sin and misery. Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery. Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.”

Note for a moment how clear this teaching really is. It doesn’t say, “since there are many things to know, it is therefore unhelpful do delineate any universal principles true to everyone’s situation.” No, rather it lays out a very clear and concise summery of the basic ingredients of knowledge that are essential to Christian life.

First, the greatness of my sin and misery.

However unpopular talking about sin might be, the Reformed were clear on this point: nothing is more practical and indeed essential than that we understand the nature of man and his perilous predicament. Indeed, it is man’s nature as a sinner before the righteous judgment of a holy God this is particularly and perennially out of style.

But how to we come to know our misery? By the Law of God.

God gave the law first from Mount Sinai saying, “Love God, and Love your Neighbor.” Later Jesus further explicated the law on the Sermon on the Mount telling us how we love must from the heart and even love our enemies. Thus, the law gives us God’s righteous standards. In sum it commands us to “Be perfect.”

“Oh come on now,” someone might object. “It doesn’t actually mean ‘be perfect.’ Everybody knows we can’t be perfect. God wouldn’t be so unjust to require of people something impossible for them to perform.”  But would God really be unjust? Is God actually merely saying, “Oh, you can try hard enough, and if you’re basically a good person all-around, I’ll let you into my kingdom”? In effect, does God just wink at our sin?

Somehow, down deep inside, we all know this doesn’t ring true. We have a sneaky suspicion that God probably isn’t very happy with us, and is actually probably pretty mad at us. Furthermore, in the deeper recesses of our consciences, we also probably have a pretty good idea why God is angry with us and that he has good reason. We are all sinners and we know it. We are unrighteous and deserve to be punished one way or another. As Paul writes to the Romans:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin (Rom. 3:19-20).

But we’ll never come to this realization unless the law drives us there. Rather, we’ll ever end up stifling such contemplations and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.  Only the law of God in its pure, unadulterated intensity, can waken drunken sinners from their perilous stupor. Only the law of God can cut someone to the quick like is demonstrated by the tax collector  who “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13).

Paul goes on to say in Romans 7:

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (v. 24-25).

Second, how I am redeemed from all my sins and misery.

That “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11) which sets the prisoners free is none other than that declarative message, indeed that announcement of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Paul called this of “first importance.” That which he received, he also delivered to others:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Cor. 15:3-8).

Notice the historic emphasis in all of this. Paul is not talking about a mere sentimental experience he had, but about what actually happened in space, time, and history. This stuff would have been on the evening news! And it was being announced all throughout “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This was a message, with a particular content. And it was essential that it be heralded to all the world. This is why Paul could cite the scripture, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom. 10:15) and come to the conclusion, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).

But what really is so good about this supposedly good news anyway?  Isn’t the gospel kind of like a ‘new law’ in the end anyway?

That’s a great question, and the answer is a big no. The gospel is not just a new law. In fact, the gospel is not the law, nor law at all. It is gospel! It is entirely and categorically distinct. The law commands, the gospel promises. The law says “do,” while the gospel says, “done.” In fact as one person put it, “the gospel gives what the law demands.”

“How does this happen?” one might justly ask? The answer comes through the doctrine of justification by faith alone: By believing upon Jesus Christ, God not only forgives one’s sins, but also imputes the righteousness and holiness of Christ unto the sinful believer. This means that not only are our sins taken care of at the cross, but Christ’s perfect obedience to the law is also credited to us who believe.

This means the gospel is not just a cosmic do-over where God presses the restart button and gives sinners a second chance: “Okay, I forgave your sins, try harder this time.” God isn’t just the God of second chances. Rather, God saves sinners, period!  He’s the God who kills and makes alive. He’s the God who saves to the uttermost, those who were dead in their trespasses. There is a profound sense in which God, by sending Christ into the world, was not merely rewinding the tape to give men another opportunity to save themselves.  He was not just putting man back in the garden with another try at resisting the forbidden fruit. Rather, he was putting Christ, the Son of God, in the garden. And this time, the second Adam would drive out the serpent, crushing its head, and earn the eternal inheritance for all his people . We must make no mistake, “salvation is of the Lord” and it is a gift. God is doing the saving — all of it. And he alone will get all the glory.

So if this is true (which it is), how do we get all this benefit? How do receive all these blessings? This forgiveness of our sins? This righteousness imputed to us?  Oh, friend! Now we enter into the most important question of all. And the answer is by faith alone!

“[W]hat must I do to be saved?” asked the Phillippian jailor. And the Evangelists reply: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31).

“By faith alone?” someone might wonder. “Isn’t that too easy? What about obedience to the law, and overcoming our sin? Doesn’t it say somewhere that “only the doers of the law will be justified” (Rom 2:11) and that a person “is justified by works and not by faith alone: (Jas. 2:24).  Well, those are all good questions, and have been taken up in more detail elsewhere.  But in short, yes the “doers of the law” would be justified by the law — if in fact there were any such doers! But the clear witness from scripture is that there aren’t any such “doers of the law” except for Christ: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23-24). James’ point is that this faith (which alone justifies) will never itself be alone in the justified, but will ever be accompanied with good works. Just as it would be absurd to consider a new heart transplant (a heart of flesh) that didn’t begin pumping new blood through the veins (and would function just as the old heart of stone), so it would be absurd to say assume one has faith without works. We are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Such a faith would be a dead faith, and indeed not true faith at all. But faith itself, not our works, is the alone instrument of our justification. And this must be so. For only faith can look away from our sinful, pitiful, selves and flee to Christ. Faith is my nature extra-spective and looks to Christ alone for righteousness and forgiveness. And “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Paul relates,

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. … God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:21-26).

And as Christ our Lord has said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

So this is the doctrine of justification by faith alone and it is at the heart of the gospel. As the Reformed were fond of putting it, justification was the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. According to Calvin it was the hinge (or axis) upon which the whole Christian religion turned.

But we don’t understand the importance of justification apart from the law. In Romans 5, we read that “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” So the Law paves the way for the gospel. It brings men low so that they might first realize their need for the gospel and for Christ.  That is why it so important that we never divorce the law and the gospel. In fact, the gospel makes no sense apart from the law.  If people have a low view of the law, they will inevitably have a low view of the gospel. Invariably they will think themselves righteous and in no real need for the gospel.  Such a person will not find Christ glorious, nor the cross very important.  And for the righteousness of Christ imputed to the sinner? Who needs such a thing? What a stupid doctrine! They will say.

Thus, it is only those who have been humbled by the law, who have tasted something of the weight of their sins, and felt the guilt of their just condemnation, who are then ready (indeed made able) to receive the gospel. To them, then, the gospel of grace is the most beautiful, wonderful thing in the whole world. And oh how they or overcome by the sheer mercy and goodness of God in Christ.

Third, how I am to be thankful to God for such redemption.

Paul says in Rom 12:1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Having been justified now we get to serve God and follow his ways and walk in his righteousness — not because we have to but because we want to. The law no longer has any condemning power over us. And what’s more, we’re no longer under the power and dominion of sin either.  Although we still struggle with indwelling vestiges of our old nature, our old heart of stone has been thrown out and a new heart of flesh put in. Thus it is impossible that we still want our old sin like we used to. In fact it is unavoidable: we will desire the things of God and want to honor Christ. For we have been regenerated, the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

But, how do we know what pleases God? Well we know it from the law of God, as mentioned before. But now, because of our justification, we can offer obedience without fear of punishment or reproach for sin-stained and imperfect works. And furthermore, we are motivated out of gratitude to God and a certain, sure, anticipation of the glory to come.

In conclusion, this threefold division of the things necessary to know are then explicated in the remainder of the Catechism under the categories, Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude.  For the Reformed, this threefold structure, provided not only a clear outline of basic doctrines but also a helpful theological instruction as to the order in which we come to them.  There must be a clear logical flow from the Law (showing us our sin and misery) and the Gospel (showing us how we are redeemed from all our sine and misery and enabled and energized to respond thankful obedience). We don’t find one doctrine irrespective of the other. We can’t come to the gospel, without the law first driving us to our knees. And likewise, we don’t ever bow before the law without immediately looking to the gospel to find forgiveness and grace. Similarly, we never grow tired of the gospel or outgrow its relevance in our lives without finding again our need for the law to show us again how much deeper our sin still lies and how much more we still depend upon the gospel. And finally, we never rest in the gospel without at the same time being renewed in the inner man so that we delight in the Law of God and seek wholeheartedly to please Christ our Savior and Lord.

Paul says as much when he writes to Titus in the wonderful little letter by that name:

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,  5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,  whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.  This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone (Titus 3:3-8).

Read Full Post »

Reading through Pilgrim’s Progress, I found this exchange worthy of particular note. Christian is enquiring with Ignorance as to the state of his soul. And upon hearing that all man’s righteousness is as filthy rags before God, Ignorance responds:

Ignorance: Do you think that I am such a fool as to think God can see no further than I; or that I would come to God in the best of my performances?

Christian: Why, how dost thou think in this matter?

Ignorance: Why, to be short, I think I must believe in Christ for justification.

Christian: How! think thou must believe in Christ, when thou seest not they need of Him! Thou neither seest thy original nor actual infirmities; but has such an opinion of theyself, and of what thou doest, as plainly renders thee to be one that did never see a necessity of Christ’s personal righteousness to justify thee before God. How, then, dost thou say, I believe in Christ?

Ignorance:  I believe well enough for all that.

Christian: How does thou believe?

Ignorance: I believe that Christ died for sinners; and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, though His gracious acceptance of my obedience to His law. Or thus, Christ makes my duties, that are religious, acceptable to His Father by virtue of His merits, and so shall I be justified.

Christian: Let me give an answer to this confession of thy faith:
1. Thou believest with a fantastical faith; for this faith is nowhere described in the word.
2.  Thou believest with a false faith; because it taketh justification from the personal righteousness of Christ, and applies it to thy own.
3. This faith maketh not Christ a justifier of thy person, but of thy actions; and of thy person for thy actions’ sake, which is false.
4. Therefore this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave thee under wrath in the day of God Almighty: for trut justifying faith puts the soul, as sensible of its lost condition my the law, upon flying for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness (which righteousness of His is not an act of grace by which He maketh, for justification, thy obedience accepted with God, but His personal obedience to the law, in doing and suffering for us what that required at our hands); this righteousness, I say, true faith accepteth; under the skirt of which the soul being shrouded, and by it presented as spotless before God, it is accepted, and acquit from condemnation.

Ignorance: What! would you have us trust to what Christ in His own person has done without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list: for what matter how we live, if we may be justified by Christ’s personal righteousness from all when we believe it?

Christian: Ignorance is thy name, and as thy name is, so art thou: even this thy answer demonstrateh what I say. Ignorant thou art of what justifying righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure thy soul through the faith of it, from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, thou also art ignorant of the true effects of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ, which is to bow and win over the hearts to God in Christ, to love His name, His word, ways, and people, and not as thou ignorantly imaginest.

Taken from Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan (published by Fleming H. Revell: 1999) pp. 138-140.

Read Full Post »

Francis Turretin in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology comments on the causal priority of justification to sanctification:

…guilt and the dominion of sin mutually follow each other and establish and take away each other in turn. For as no one can be freed from guilt by justification without being immediately freed from its dominion by sanctification (which necessarily follows justification and cannot be torn asunder from it), thus he who is freed from its dominion ought first to have been freed from guilt, the cause of dominion.

Volume 2, p. 251.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »