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Posts Tagged ‘Sola Fide’

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’d been reading Cornelis P. Venema’s very helpful work on Calvin titled, Accepted and Renewed in Christ: The Twofold Grace of God and the Interpretation of Calvin’s Theology. One of his thoughts:

One prominent feature of faith, and one which is implicit in this antithesis between faith and works, is its humility. Faith contrasts with the righteousness of works and plays such an instrumental function in our justification precisely because it humbly ascribes the whole substance of salvation to God’s grace in Christ alone. Without this humility of faith, it is not possible to enjoy Christ; it would be incongruous for us to embrace him without recognizing and conforming ourselves to his exemplary humility in “abasing himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy!” According to Calvin, only “those who have learned humility in the school of the cross” can expect to partake of that blessedness which Christ freely gives to those who trust in him. Only through the humility which characterizes true faith, a humility which consists in the acknowledgement of our need and in yielding to God’s mercy, can we find salvation and rest in God. Faith justifies us because it refuses to assert its own right or cause before and apart from God’s grace, claiming thereby a position of relative independence and self-sufficiency in his presence; it justifies us precisely because it eschews every from of self-justification before God. For faith alone knows that “our humility is God’s loftiness,” and that the acknowledgment of our need “has a ready remedy in his mercy.” (p. 105-6)

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Yes, that’s Calvin.

Translated from Latin to English, there are still few who compare to him. Pure, reading pleasure. And then he writes things like this…

“That he is justified by faith, who is cleared before God by a gratuitous remission of his sins.” We may also hence learn, the unceasing perpetuity of gratuitous righteousness through life: for when David, being wearied with the continual anguish of his own conscience, gave utterance to this declaration, he no doubt spoke according to his own experience; and he had now served God for many years. He then had found by experience, after having made great advances, that all are miserable when summoned before God’s tribunal; and he made this avowal, that there is no other way of obtaining blessedness, except the Lord receives us into favor by not imputing our sins. Thus fully refuted also is the romance of those who dream, that the righteousness of faith is but initial, and that the faithful afterwards retain by works the possession of that righteousness which they had first attained by no merits. – Calvin on Psalm 32

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I stumbled across these quotations today by Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary, Bruce McCormack:

We live in a time in which the churches of the Reformation are in doctrinal chaos. Many there are who, appalled by the gnosticism and even paganism of a good bit of the theology to be found on the left wing of their churches, have turned longing eyes towards Rome and Constantinople.

He then continues:

I think it is accurate to say that there are no hotter topics in Protestant theology today than the themes of theosis, union with Christ, the de Lubacian axiom “the Eucharist makes the church,” etc…. In the process, the churches are slowly coming under the influence of a concept of “participation” in Christ that owes a great deal to the ancient Greek ontologies of pure being…. In truth, forensicism (rightly understood!) provides the basis for an alternative theological ontology to the one presupposed in Roman and Eastern soteriology. Where this is not seen, the result has almost always been the abandonment of the Reformation doctrine of justification on the mistaken assumption that the charge of a “legal fiction” has a weight, which in truth, it does not.
Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, 105-6.

Wow! Any thoughts?

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John Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, goes great lengths to destroy any foundation under the feet of those who would insist on good works (even Spirit-wrought, regenerate, and sanctified works) as playing any part in our justification and right standing before God. He also offers insight as to why this form of legalism so easily offers itself to the minds of sinners like us.

If upon hearing again and again of the free offer of the gospel (the lavish forgiveness of sins, the gratuitous gift of perfect righteousness, and the gracious reconciliation with the Father) one finds his or her heart only more hardened or, as it were, unimpressed, it proves only our need to take recourse in one thing:

We Must Lift Up Our Minds to God’s Judgement Seat that We May Be Firmly Convinced of His Free Justification

1. No one is righteous before God’s judgment seat.

Even though all these things are by shining testimonies shown to be perfectly true [Calvin is referring to his treatise on free justification], still, how necessary they are will not be clear to us until we set before our eyes what ought to be the basis of this whole discussion. First, therefor, this fact should occur to us: that our discourse is concerned with the justice not of a human court but of a heavenly tribunal, lest we measure by our own small measure the integrity of works needed to satisfy the divine judgment. Yet it is amazing with what great rashness and boldness this is commonly defined. Indeed, one can see how there are none who more confidently, and as people say, boisterously chatter over the righteousness of works than they who are monstrously plagued with manifest diseases, or creak with defects beneath the skin. That happens because they do not think about God’s justice, which they would never hold in such derision if they were affected even by the slightest feeling of it. Yet surely it is held of precious little value if it is not recognized as God’s justice and so perfect that nothing can be admitted except what is in every part whole and complete and undefiled by any corruption. Such was never found in man and never will be.

In the shady cloisters of the schools anyone can easily and readily prattle about the value of works in justifying men. But when we come before the presence of God we must put away such amusements! For there we deal with a serous matter, and do not engage in frivolous word battles. To this question, I insist, we must apply our mind if we would profitably inquire concerning true righteousness: How shall we reply to the Heavenly Judge when he calls us to account? Let us envisage for ourselves that Judge, not as our minds naturally imagine him, but as he is depicted for us in Scripture: by whose brightness the stars are darkened [Job 9:5-6]; by whose strength the mountains are melted; by whose wrath the earth is shaken; Whose wisdom catches the wise in their craftiness; beside whose whose purity all things are defiled; whose righteousness not even the angels can bear; who makes not the guilty man innocent; whose vengeance when once kindled penetrates to the depths of hell. Let us behold him, I say, sitting in judgment to examine the deeds of me: Who will stand confident before his throne?
– John Calvin, Institutes, 3.12.1

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I’ve been reading through some of our old confessional documents such as the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession. And I must admit they are a delight to the eye and to the heart.  Article 22 of the Belgic Confession regards justifying faith and the faith of justification:

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 works (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.

These documents are tremendously helpful and clear regarding the things we believe.

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B.B. Warfield:

It is, nevertheless, the very cor cordis of the Gospel that is here brought under fire. The one antithesis of all the ages is that between the rival formula: Do this and live, and Live and do this: Do and be saved, and Be saved and do. And the one thing that determines whether we trust in God for salvation or would fain save ourselves is, how such formulae appeal to us…. Just in proportion as we are striving to supplement or supplant His perfect work, just in that proportion is our hope of salvation resting on works, and not on faith. Ethicism and solafideanism—these are the eternal contraries, mutually exclusive. It must be faith or works; it can never be faith and works. And the fundamental exhortation which we must ever be giving our souls is clearly expressed in the words of the Hymn, “Cast your deadly doing down.” Only when that is completely done is it really Christ Only, Christ All in All, with us.

Taken from Covenant Justification and Pastoral Ministry (p. 329)

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