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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.

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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!

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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).

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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)

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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

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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.

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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).

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