Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification

My thanks to Justin Taylor for this: John Piper’s foreword to Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification, by Thomas Schreiner: Knowing from James 2:26 that there is such a thing as dead faith; and from James 2:19 that there is such a thing as demonic faith; and from 1 Corinthians 15:2 that it is possible to believe in vain; and from Luke8:13 that one can “believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away;” and knowing that it is through faith that we are born again (1 John 5:1) and have eternal life (John 3:16, 36), therefore, surely we must conclude that the nature of faith, and its relationship to salvation, is of infinite importance. I use the word infinite carefully. I mean that, if we don’t have such faith, the consequences have infinite significance. Eternal life is an infinite thing. And thus the loss of it is an infinite thing. Therefore, any human concern that has only to do with this world, no matter how global, no matter how painful, no matter how enduring—if it has only to

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What is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

. 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

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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

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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

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