Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Justification’

If you have ever ready any of Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, perhaps you have wondered how it relates to one’s Reformed piety? I remember the book came highly recommend to me by a fellow Presbyterian as one of the most impacting books I should read to better understand the Christian faith. I was lent the book and began reading.

But after a little while I was astonished at the absence of Christ being set fourth as the foundation of one’s righteousness and assurance before God. It seemed to me little more than Medieval moralism.

Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711), a Dutch Puritan and leader in the Dutch Further Reformation, offers a helpful balance:

Thomas à Kempis….. having written that excellent treatise The Imitation of Christ in three volumes. The fourth volume is not authored by him; it is idolatrous and has been added by someone else. However… à Kempis [has] little to say about the Lord Jesus as being the ransom and righteousness of sinners–about how He, by a truth faith, must be used unto justification and in approaching unto God, beholding in His countenance the glory of God, and practicing true holiness as originating in Him and in union with Him. Readers must note this about [à Kempis], keeping this in mind when they read… They will then be able to benefit from [his] writings.
The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Vol. 2, pp.  640-41.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

That Christ would desire to hear our prayers is a thought sometimes quite staggering and unbelievable to us. “O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song 2:14). John Owen comments on this verse:

As if to say, ‘Do not hide yourself as one that flees to the clefts of the rocks. Do not be timid and fearful like one that hides in the secret places and is afraid to come out. Do not be cast down at the weakness of your prayers. Let me hear you sighing and groaning for me. They are sweet and delightful to my ears. Let me see your spiritual face seeking for and desiring heavenly things. A look from your brings great joy and delight to me.’ […]

And yet, it is not only that Christ desires our fellowship. His act of love enables us, and opens our hearts, to commune with him in return.

The soul loves Christ for his beauty, grace and all-sufficiency. The soul sees Christ as far to be preferred above all other beloveds whatever (Song 5:9). To the soul, Christ is ‘altogether lovely’ (Song 5:16)… The soul constantly prefers Christ to all else, counting everything else that seeks to possess the heart but rubbish in comparison to him. Beloved peace; beloved human relationship; beloved wisdom and learning; beloved righteousness; beloved duties are all but rubbish compared to Christ.

But this communion only takes place in light of the gospel. In fact, it is the message of free justification, apart from works, which allows us to come freely to Christ. Apart from this, there is no communion. And as we continue in the faith, the relationship of free justification remains the continual basis of our communion.

The soul willingly accepts Christ as its only Husband, Lord and Savior.  This is called ‘receiving’ Christ (John 1:12). This does not mean a once-for-all act of the will, but a continual receiving of Christ in abiding with him and owning him to be our Lord for ever. This is when the soul agrees to take Christ on his terms, for Christ to save him as and how he will and says, ‘Lord, I would have had you and salvation in my own way and on my own terms, partly by my own efforts, by my own good works, but now I am willing to receive you and to be saved in your way, merely by grace. I would have walked according to the dictates of my own mind, yet now I give up myself to be wholly ruled by your Spirit, for in you alone I have righteousness and strength. In you alone I am justified, and in you alone to I glory.’ In this way the soul has continual abiding communion with Christ in grace. This is what it means to receive Christ in his beauty and supreme glory. Let believers exercise their hearts abundantly in this communion. What joy they will find! – John Owen, Communion with God, (abridged version), 57-60.

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 »

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 »

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

One of the awesome things one gets from attempting to learn the Greek is a greater sensitivity to the nuances in the original language.  In this passage, the verb ‘metabaino’ (to pass over, pass through, enter) is not vague or at all ambiguous.  It is in the perfect tense, which indicates “that the action is completed with a resulting state” (S.M. Baugh).

So all of us who have heard Christ’s word and believed him have “passed over” from death into life. Think completed action with a resultant state! In other words, it’s a done deal! There is a very real and profound sense in which we have already entered through the portal of the eschaton! Of course, at present this remains a spiritual reality. Our bodies wait and grown until it becomes a physical reality as well. Calvin comments on this passage quite helpfully.

We ought always to consider what it is that the Gospel offers to us; for we need not wonder that he who receives Christ with all his merits is reconciled to God, and acquitted of the condemnation of death; and that he who has received the gift of the Holy Spirit is clothed with a heavenly righteousness, that he may walk in newness of life….

And shall not come into condemnation. There is here an implied contrast between the guilt to which we are all naturally liable, and the unconditional acquittal which we obtain through Christ; for if all were not liable to condemnation, what purpose would it serve to free from it those who believe in Christ? The meaning therefore is, that we are beyond the danger of death, because we are acquitted through the grace of Christ; and, therefore, though Christ sanctifies and regenerates us, by his Spirit, to newness of life, yet here he specially mentions the unconditional forgiveness of sins, in which alone the happiness of men consists. For then does a man begin to live when he has God reconciled to him; and how would God love us, if he did not pardon our sins?

But hath passed. Some Latin copies have this verb in the future tense, WILL PASS from death to life; but this has arisen from the ignorance and rashness of some person who, not understanding the meaning of the Evangelist, has taken more liberty than he ought to have taken; for the Greek word metabe÷bhke (hath passed) has no ambiguity whatever. There is no impropriety in saying that we have already passed from death to life; for the incorruptible seed of life (1 Peter 1:23) resides in the children of God, and they already sit in the heavenly glory with Christ by hope, (Colossians 3:3,) and they have the kingdom of God already established within them, (Luke 17:21.) For though their life be hidden, they do not on that account cease to possess it by faith; and though they are besieged on every side by faith, they do not cease to be calm on this account, that they know that they are in perfect safety through the protection of Christ. Yet let us remember that believers are now in life in such a manner that they always carry about with them the cause of death; but the Spirit, who dwells in us, is life, which will at length destroy the remains of death; for it is a true saying of Paul, that “death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26.).

And, indeed, this passage contains nothing that relates to the complete destruction of death, or the entire manifestation of life. But though life be only begun in us, Christ declares that believers are so certain of obtaining it, that they ought not to fear death; and we need not wonder at this, since they are united to him who is the inexhaustible fountain of life.

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 »

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 »

Older Posts »