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What is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?

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Sinclair Ferguson:

Let us begin with a church history exam question. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) was a figure not to be taken lightly. He was Pope Clement VIII’s personal theologian and one of the most able figures in the Counter-Reformation movement within sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism. On one occasion, he wrote: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is _______ .” Complete, explain, and discuss Bellarmine’s statement.

How would you answer? What is the greatest of all Protestant heresies? Perhaps justification by faith? Perhaps Scripture alone, or one of the other Reformation watchwords?

Those answers make logical sense. But none of them completes Bellarmine’s sentence. What he wrote was: “The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.”

A moment’s reflection explains why. If justification is not by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone — if faith needs to be completed by works; if Christ’s work is somehow repeated; if grace is not free and sovereign, then something always needs to be done, to be “added” for final justification to be ours. That is exactly the problem. If final justification is dependent on something we have to complete it is not possible to enjoy assurance of salvation. For then, theologically, final justification is contingent and uncertain, and it is impossible for anyone (apart from special revelation, Rome conceded) to be sure of salvation. But if Christ has done everything, if justification is by grace, without contributory works; it is received by faith’s empty hands — then assurance, even “full assurance” is possible for every believer.

No wonder Bellarmine thought full, free, unfettered grace was dangerous! No wonder the Reformers loved the letter to the Hebrews!

This is why, as the author of Hebrews pauses for breath at the climax of his exposition of Christ’s work (Heb. 10:18), he continues his argument with a Paul-like “therefore” (Heb. 10:19). He then urges us to “draw near … in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). We do not need to re-read the whole letter to see the logical power of his “therefore.” Christ is our High Priest; our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience just as our bodies have been washed with pure water (v.22).

Christ has once-for-all become the sacrifice for our sins, and has been raised and vindicated in the power of an indestructible life as our representative priest. By faith in Him, we are as righteous before the throne of God as He is righteous. For we are justified in His righteousness, His justification alone is ours! And we can no more lose this justification than He can fall from heaven. Thus our justification does not need to be completed any more than does Christ’s!

With this in view, the author says, “by one offering He has perfected for all time those who come to God by him” (Heb. 10:14). The reason we can stand before God in full assurance is because we now experience our “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and … bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

“Ah,” retorted Cardinal Bellarmine’s Rome, “teach this and those who believe it will live in license and antinomianism.” But listen instead to the logic of Hebrews. Enjoying this assurance leads to four things: First, an unwavering faithfulness to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ alone as our hope (v.23); second, a careful consideration of how we can encourage each other to “love and good works” (v.24); third, an ongoing communion with other Christians in worship and every aspect of our fellowship (v.25a); fourth, a life in which we exhort one another to keep looking to Christ and to be faithful to him, as the time of his return draws ever nearer (25b).

It is the good tree that produces good fruit, not the other way round. We are not saved by works; we are saved for works. In fact we are God’s workmanship at work (Eph. 2:9–10)! Thus, rather than lead to a life of moral and spiritual indifference, the once-for-all work of Jesus Christ and the full-assurance faith it produces, provides believers with the most powerful impetus to live for God’s glory and pleasure. Furthermore, this full assurance is rooted in the fact that God Himself has done all this for us. He has revealed His heart to us in Christ. The Father does not require the death of Christ to persuade Him to love us. Christ died because the Father loves us (John 3:16). He does not lurk behind His Son with sinister intent wishing He could do us ill — were it not for the sacrifice his Son had made! No, a thousand times no! — the Father Himself loves us in the love of the Son and the love of the Spirit.

Those who enjoy such assurance do not go to the saints or to Mary. Those who look only to Jesus need look nowhere else. In Him we enjoy full assurance of salvation. The greatest of all heresies? If heresy, let me enjoy this most blessed of “heresies”! For it is God’s own truth and grace!

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

Five Key Concepts in the Reformation Understanding of Justification

Kevin DeYoung:

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered that launching point for the Protestant Reformation.

The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. It was, to use Calvin’s language, the “main hinge on which religion turns.” And the doctrine of justification is no less important today than it was 500 years ago.

There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.

First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).

Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. Alien doesn’t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).

Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.

Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.

Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. In other words, faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved.

Why the Reformation Is Not Over

Scott Manetsch (associate professor of church history and chair of the church history department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and the associate general editor of IVP’s  Reformation Commentary Series) explains why it is “impossible to reconcile the classic Protestant solas with the teaching of the Catholic Catechism.”

  • For Roman Catholics, Scripture and Tradition are two distinct but equal modes of revealed authority which the magisterium of the Roman Church has sole responsibility to transmit and interpret.
  • For the early Protestant reformers, the holy Scripture provides final normative authority for Christian doctrine and practice, standing as judge above all institutions and ecclesial traditions.
  • For Roman Catholics, sinners are justified because of inherent righteousness.
  • For the mainstream Protestant reformers, sinners are accepted on the basis of the righteousness of another—namely, the alien righteousness of Christ imputed to them.
  • For Roman Catholics, sinners are both justified by unmerited grace at baptism and (subsequently) justified by those infused graces merited by cooperating with divine grace.
  • For the magisterial reformers, sinners are justified before God by grace alone.
  • For Roman Catholics, sinners are justified by faith (in baptism), but not by faith alone.
  • For the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers, sinners are justified by faith alone.
  • For Roman Catholics, justification is a process of renewal that affords no solid basis for Christian assurance in this life.
  • For reformers such as Luther and Calvin, justification is God’s decisive verdict of forgiveness and righteousness that assures Christian believers of the acceptance and love of their heavenly Father.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

God takes action in Christ

“God takes action in Christ against sin, death, and the devil. The doctrine of justification is not about the workings of impersonal law in the universe, or about manipulating its outcomes, but it is about God. The moral law is simply the reflection of the character of God, and when God acts to address the outcomes of the broken moral law, he addresses these himself, himself taking the burden of his own wrath, himself absorbing in the person of Christ the judgment his righteous character cannot but demand, himself providing what no sinner can give, himself absorbing the punishment no sinner can bear and live.”

— David F. Wells
The Courage to Be Protestant
(Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2008), 201

(HT: Of First Importance)

Always Unworthy!

B.B. Warfield:

“It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners”: “miserable sinners” saved by grace to be sure, but “miserable sinners” still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ.”

(HT: Carl Truman, via Todd Pruitt)

My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less

“So then, have we nothing to do to obtain righteousness? No, nothing at all! For this righteousness comes by doing nothing, hearing nothing, knowing nothing, but rather in knowing and believing this only–that Christ has gone to the right hand of the Father, not to become our judge, but to become for us our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our salvation!

Now God sees no sin in us. For in this heavenly righteousness, sin has no place. So now we may certainly think, “Although I still sin, I don’t despair, because Christ lives–who is both my righteousness and my eternal life.” In that righteousness I have no sin, no fear, no guilty conscience, no fear of death. I am indeed a sinner in this life of mine and in my own righteousness, but I have another life, another righteousness above this life, which is in Christ, the Son of God, who knows no sin or death, but is eternal righteousness and eternal life. For if the truth of being justified by Christ alone (not by our works) is lost, then all Christian truths are lost…On this truth and only on this truth the Church is built and has its being.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, Preface

(HT: Tullian Tchividjian)

The greatest personal question ever asked

“Justification by faith is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul: ‘How shall I be right with God?  How do I stand in God’s sight?  With what favor does he look upon me?’  There are those, I admit, who never raise that question.  There are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men but never with the question of their standing before God.  There are those who are interested in what ‘people say’ but not in the question of what God says.  Such men, however, are not those who move the world.  They are apt to go with the current.  They are apt to do as others do.  They are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race.  The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men and becomes interested in the judgment of God.”

J. Gresham Machen, in God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), pages 89-90.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

The Essense of the Christian Faith

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
“The determining factor in our relationship with God is not our past or present, but Christ’s past and present.”

‘How then does it work?’ It works like this. God accepts this righteousness of Christ, this perfect righteousness face to face with the Law, which He honored in every respect. He has kept it and given obedience to it [through his perfect life], and he has borne its penalty [through his death]. The Law is fully satisfied. God’s way of salvation, says Paul, is that. He gives to us the righteousness of Christ. If we have seen our need and go to God and confess it, God will give us his own Son’s righteousness. He imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, who believe in Him, and regards us as righteous, and declares and pronounces us to be righteous in Him. That is the way of salvation, the Christian way of salvation…

To make it quite practical let me say that there is a very simple way of testing yourself to know whether you believe that… [After] I have explained the way of justification…to them, 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.’ At once I know that in a sense I have been wasting my breath. 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 Christ. 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… The essence of the Christian faith is to say that He is good enough and that I am in Him!
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As long as you go on thinking about yourself and saying: ‘Ah, yes, I would like to, but I am not good enough; I am a sinner, a great sinner,’ you are denying God and you will never be happy. You will continue to be cast down and disquieted. You will think you are better at times and then again you will find that you are not as good as you thought you were… How can I put this plainly? It does not matter if you have almost entered into the depths of hell, if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin, it does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God. You are no more hopeless than the most respectable…person in the world. Do you believe that?”  

D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression
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Freely Justified

 

“We are justified freely, for Christ’s sake, by faith, without the exertion of our own strength, gaining of merit, or doing of works.  To the age-old question, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ the confessional answer is shocking: ‘Nothing!  Just be still; shut up and listen for once in your life to what God the Almighty, creator and redeemer, is saying to his world and to you in the death and resurrection of his Son!  Listen and believe!’”

Gerhard O. Forde, Justification by Faith (Philadelphia, 1983), page 22.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Why is it that Faith Alone Justifies?

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Erik Raymond writes:

Have you wondered why the Bible repeatedly emphasizes faith as the means by which we receive justification? John Piper begins to walk down this road and think it through in this helpful quote:

“To get at the nature of that faith, it is helpful to ponder why faith alone justifies. Why not love, or some other virtuous disposition? Here’s the way J. Gresham Machen answers this question in his 1925 book What Is Faith? ’The true reason why faith is given such an exclusive place by the New Testament, so far as the attainment of salvation is concerned, over against love and over against everything else in man . . . is that faith means receiving something, not doing something or even being something. To say, therefore, that our faith saves us means that we do not save ourselves even in slightest measure, but that God saves us.’

In other words, we are justified by faith alone, and not by love, because God intends to make it crystal clear that he does the decisive saving outside of us, and that the person and work of Christ are the sole ground of our acceptance with God.”

– John Piper, Think! The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

Imputed righteousness must come first

“Imputed righteousness must come first. You cannot have the righteousness within—until you have the righteousness without; and to make your own righteousness the price which you give to God for that of His Son—is to dishonour Christ, and to deny His cross.

The Spirit’s work is not to make us holy, in order that we may be pardoned; but to show us the cross, where the pardon is to be found by the unholy; so that having found the pardon there, we may begin the life of holiness to which we are called.”

— Horatius Bonar

(HT: Of First Importance)

The Turning Point of Francis Schaeffer’s Life and Ministry

“. . . so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Titus 2:10

From Dane Ortlund:

In 1951 Francis Schaeffer’s life and ministry were turned upside down, despite already having walked with the Lord for many years and having seen much fruit in ministry. He was 39.

In the introduction to his book True Spirituality, Schaeffer recounts what happened.

I faced a spiritual crisis in my own life. I had become a Christian from agnosticism many years ago. After that I had become a pastor for ten years in the United States, and then for several years my wife, Edith, and I had been working in Europe. During this time I felt a strong burden to stand for the historical Christian position and for the purity of the visible church. Gradually, however, a problem came to me—the problem of reality. This has two parts: first, it seemed to me that among many of those who held the orthodox position one saw little reality in the things that the Bible so clearly says should be the result of Christianity. Second, it gradually grew on me that my reality was less than it had been in the early days after I had become a Christian. I realized that in honesty I had to go back and rethink my whole position.

We were living in Champéry [Switzerland] at the time, and I told Edith that for the sake of honesty I had to go all the way back to my agnosticism and think through the whole matter. I’m sure that she prayed much for me in those days. I walked in the mountains when it was clear, and when it was rainy I walked backward and forward in the hayloft of the old chalet in which we lived. I walked, prayed, and thought through what the Scriptures taught, reviewing my own reasons for being a Christian. . . .

I searched through what the Bible said concerning reality as a Christian. Gradually I saw that the problem was that with all the teaching I had received after I was a Christian, I had heard little about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives. Gradually the sun came out and the song came. Interestingly enough, although I had written no poetry for many years, in that time of joy and song I found poetry beginning to flow again.

Three things are striking here, and worth considering for our own time.

1. Right doctrine matters.

Schaeffer says that he spent many of his early Christian years working for “the historical Christian position.” That means orthodoxy. Right belief. And nowhere in this autobiographical reflection does Schaeffer go back on the importance of such orthodoxy. On the contrary, he says that after going back and rethinking his foundational reasons for believing, he identified his lack of vibrancy as due to something other than his theology. The problem was not his doctrine. It was something else—the absence of “reality.”

2. Right doctrine exists not ultimately for correct thinking but for beautiful living.

True doctrine, as Paul tells Titus, is to be “adorned” (Titus 2:10). To lack grace in our lives is to deny grace in our theology. We can unsay with our lives in the living room what we say with our lips in the pew. The doctrines of grace generate a culture of grace. If they don’t, the doctrines of grace are not truly believed. We may say we believe them. We may even think we do. But we don’t. Not really.

A man who says he believes his treasure is in heaven as he drives a Bentley, owns five homes on three continents, and refuses to give any resources to the church or anyone else doesn’t really believe what he says he believes. You can see what he believes.

And if a man says he believes the doctrines of grace but does not exude what Schaeffer calls the “reality” of those doctrines, such a man does not really believe those doctrines. He might align himself with the doctrines of grace creedally. But he has not adorned the doctrines of grace.

“Dead orthodoxy,” Schaeffer once preached, “is always a contradiction in terms.”

3. The crucial doctrine that fuels beautiful living is the gospel.

“I had heard little,” Schaeffer says, “about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives.”

Francis Schaeffer came to discover, many years after his conversion, that the finished work of Christ mattered—mattered tremendously—for his present life. Not just for his past moment of conversion and not only for the future moment when he would stand before God. For today. As he says elsewhere, “I become a Christian once for all on the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith; that is justification. But the Christian life, sanctification, operates on the same basis, but moment by moment.”

The gospel is a home, not a hotel. We pass through a hotel; we reside in a home. And it was when this washed over him—note this, now—it was when his heart came to dwell in the finished work of Christ that his soul began to live again. “Gradually the sun came out and the song came.” Poetry flowed once more. Vitality returned. Orthodoxy had never left; life, however, had.

Doctrine matters. But doctrine is meant to fuel some thing else—beautiful, radiant living. Standing immovably on the finished work of Christ will get us there.

Dane Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is senior editor of Bible at Crossway Books in Wheaton, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, Stacey, and two boys. Dane blogs regularly at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology. He is the author of A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards.

Smuggling Character Into Grace

“The glory of the gospel is that God has declared Christians to be rightly related to him in spite of their sin. But our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into his work of grace. How easily we fall into the trap of assuming that we remain justified only so long as there are grounds in our character for our justification. But Paul’s teaching is that nothing we do ever contributes to our justification. So powerful was his emphasis on this that men accused him of teaching that it did not matter how they lived if God justified them. If God justifies us as we are, what is the point of holiness? There is still a sense in which this is a test of whether we offer the world the grace of God in the gospel. Does it make men say: ‘You are offering grace that is so free it doesn’t make any difference how you live’? This was precisely the objection the Pharisees had to Jesus’ teaching!” – Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, pages 82-83

(HT: Josh Harris)

Preaching Sola Fide Better

Hywel R. Jones:

Only a fraction of the present body of confessing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt for their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface they are deeply guilt ridden and insecure.

Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day to day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand on Luther’s platform; you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in the quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

The Solas

Randy Alcorn provides a nice summary of Protestant distinctives …

1. Sola Scriptura – “The Bible alone.” Scripture alone speaks authoritatively, and it speaks to all believers, independently of church leaders and councils, human interpreters and so-called spokesmen for God.

2. Sola Gratia – “Grace alone.” It is only by the unmerited favor of God that Christ went to the cross and paid the price for man’s salvation. Man is by nature depraved—he has no virtue that commends him to God. Therefore God’s grace to him is truly undeserved and amazing, and God’s grace alone has the power to draw people to himself.

3. Sola Fide – “Faith alone.” Only total righteousness is acceptable to God, and that is found in Christ, not us. Man can only accept Christ’s work by placing his trust in him. Man is justified by faith alone in the finished work of Christ, not by any works of his own.

4. Sola Christus – “Christ alone.” Salvation is accomplished by Christ alone, and mediated by Christ alone—not by angels, saints, relics, sacraments, priests, teachers, churches, or anyone or anything else. Christ alone was the perfect Savior, and he alone is the perfect prophet, priest and king.

5. Soli Deo Gloria – “To God alone be glory.” God should be thanked, praised and given full credit for his sovereign grace and spiritual and physical provision. Theology should be God-centered, not man-centered. God should be put in his place and humans in theirs. Our efforts should not elevate and celebrate men but God. We should bring him glory in our work, in our homes and at play. He, not we, should be the center of all things.

(HT: Rick Ianniello)

The one antithesis of all the ages

“The one antithesis of all the ages is that between the rival formulae: 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.”

- B. B. Warfield, Faith & Life (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust), 324-5.

(HT: Of First Importance)

The good news of justification

“Only a fraction of the present body of confessing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt for their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface they are deeply guilt ridden and insecure.

Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day to day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience.

Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand on Luther’s platform; you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in the quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.”

Hywel R. Jones, “Preaching Sola Fide Better”

(HT: Martin Downes, via David Wayne)

RC Sproul – What is the Gospel?

There is no greater message to be heard than that which we call the Gospel. But as important as that is, it is often given to massive distortions or over simplifications. People think they’re preaching the Gospel to you when they tell you, ‘you can have a purpose to your life’, or that ‘you can have meaning to your life’, or that ‘you can have a personal relationship with Jesus.’ All of those things are true, and they’re all important, but they don’t get to the heart of the Gospel.

The Gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness – or lack of it – or the righteousness of another. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.

The great misconception in our day is this: that God isn’t concerned to protect His own integrity. He’s a kind of wishy-washy deity, who just waves a wand of forgiveness over everybody. No. For God to forgive you is a very costly matter. It cost the sacrifice of His own Son. So valuable was that sacrifice that God pronounced it valuable by raising Him from the dead – so that Christ died for us, He was raised for our justification. So the Gospel is something objective. It is the message of who Jesus is and what He did. And it also has a subjective dimension. How are the benefits of Jesus subjectively appropriated to us? How do I get it? The Bible makes it clear that we are justified not by our works, not by our efforts, not by our deeds, but by faith – and by faith alone. The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him – and in Him alone. You do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.

From Legioner Ministries.

This Politician Was Passionate for Precious Doctrine

William Wilberforce

From John Piper:

William Wilberforce was driven in his political, emancipation efforts by a clear doctrinal understanding of what Christianity was. Pray that those today who care deeply about social justice will be as vigilant to righteous action in right thinking.

He was especially jealous to keep clear the right relationship between good works and justification. Notice especially his third statement below about what Christianity is.

Wilberforce said, “Christianity is:

  • a scheme “for justifying the ungodly” [Romans 4:5], by Christ’s dying for them “when yet sinners” [Romans 5:6-8],
  • a scheme “for reconciling us to God”—when enemies [Romans 5:10];
  • and for making the fruits of holiness the effectsnot the cause, of our being justified and reconciled.”

William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity, ed. Kevin Charles Belmonte (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), p. 64. Emphasis added, but the capitalization is his emphasis.

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