What Does Justification Have to Do with the Gospel?

Sinclair Ferguson: “I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel’. It is implied by the gospel; when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But ‘the gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved.”—N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, pp. 132–33 There is a striking plausibility about saying that “justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel.’” After all, as N.T. Wright elsewhere observes, we are not justified by believing in justification by faith but by believing in Jesus Christ. How Luther-like this all sounds. Did he not affirm that the gospel is “entirely outside of us”? Is this perhaps the longed-for antidote to evangelical individualism and a cure for subjectivism? Clearly Bishop Wright and others believe so. Elsewhere, Dr. Wright confesses the great relief he felt in discovering that we

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What Is Justification in Scripture and Reformation Theology?

Stephen J Wellum: In church history people have disagreed as to what justification is, and the purpose of this chapter is not to restate all the data for the Reformation’s view of justification as the biblical view.[1] Numerous books have argued this case, along with other chapters in this book.[2] Instead, I assume that the Reformation’s view of justification is the biblical view, and in this section I summarize the overall view only to set the stage for my argument that the Reformation’s view of justification and penal substitution are inseparably related. What Is Justification in Scripture and Reformation Theology? Justification is a word/concept from the law court denoting, primarily, that action whereby a judge upholds the case of one party in dispute before him. Having heard the case, the judge reaches a verdict in favor of the person and thereby “justifies” him; this action has the force of “acquittal.” The judge’s declaration entails that the person is not penally liable and

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The work of the Spirit that anticipates the future

Michael Horton: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7) “It is to your advantage that I go away.” What a strange thing to say. Right at the verge of Jordan in this new covenant conquest, how does Christ’s leaving benefit the disciples—or you and me? First of all, we need to exercise empathy here. When we read about how the disciples had not yet experienced the Holy Spirit’s illumination of their hearts so they could understand what was happening, we have to imagine how they would have heard this. In this light, it makes perfect sense that they were stunned. Here is the true and great Joshua—Jesus—standing on the verge of the Jordan, on the verge of the conquest, ready to lead the armies of God into

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A Systematic Theology of Justification

Andy Naselli: The Meaning of Justification 1. Justification is judicial, not experiential. Justification means to declare righteous, not to make righteous (in the sense of transforming one’s character to be righteous). It is a metaphor from the law court, where a judge pronounces someone as either guilty or not guilty. Paul contrasts condemning (pronouncing guilty) and justifying (pronouncing not guilty but righteous) in Romans 8:33–34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (cf. Rom. 5:18; 8:1). God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) in that he legally declares ungodly people to be innocent and righteous—not in that he transforms ungodly people into godly people.1 2. Justification includes forgiveness (Rom. 4:6–8). When God justifies believing sinners, he forgives those sinners’ “lawless deeds” and covers their sins and no longer will count their sins against them. 3. Justification includes imputation (Rom. 4:1–8; 5:15–19). Justification is a blessing because God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believing

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Practical Applications of the Doctrine of Justification

Nate Pickowicz: The Reformer John Calvin (1509–64) ardently declared the doctrine of justification by faith alone to be “the principle hinge by which [the Christian] religion is supported” (Institutes 3.11.1). Known as the material principle of the sixteenth-century Reformation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was at the epicenter of the battle to bring needed reform to the church. This biblical doctrine is central to preserving an accurate understanding of the gospel even as we find it so clearly taught in Paul’s letters to the churches of Rome and Galatia.   As we approach the Bible’s teaching on justification, it is vital that we comprehend the finer points of the doctrine. To put it bluntly, if we get justification wrong, we get the gospel wrong. Thankfully, we have a rich and faithful heritage of believers who have courageously upheld Scripture’s teaching on justification by faith alone. The Westminster Shorter Catechism presents a clear and succinct definition of justification: Justification is an act

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Justification and Assurance According to John Calvin

Tom Schreiner: Justification by Faith Alone Calvin, like Luther, stresses that justification is by faith alone. A right relationship to God can’t be gained by works since all people sin, thus the only pathway to salvation is faith. Calvin is careful to say, however, that faith shouldn’t be construed as a work, as if faith itself justifies us, for if such were the case, then faith would be a good work that makes us right with God. Instead, faith is the instrument or vessel that joins us to Christ, and ultimately believers are justified by Christ as the crucified and risen one. Faith itself, strictly speaking, doesn’t justify. Rather, faith justifies as an instrument, receiving Christ for righteousness and life. Indeed, faith is not something that originates with human beings. Yes, human beings believe the gospel and are saved, and so in that sense faith is exercised by human beings. At the same time, however, faith ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit

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What Is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies”?

What Is the Greatest of All Protestant “Heresies,” according to Roman Catholic doctrine? 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

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Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?

John Piper: The first great Reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli never summed up their teaching with the tidy set of five phrases we now know as the five solas. The solas developed over time as a way of capturing the essence of what the Reformation was mainly about in its dispute with the Roman Catholic Church. Sola is Latin for “alone” or “only.” The five solas are sola gratia (by grace alone), solo Christo (on the basis of Christ alone), sola fide (through the means of faith alone), soli Deo gloria (to the ultimate glory of God alone), sola Scriptura (as taught with the final and decisive authority of Scripture alone). Justification Alone I think these five solas can be preciously illuminating, both for the crux of the Reformation and for the essence of the Christian gospel itself, which of course was central to the dispute. I say they can be helpful because five prepositional phrases hanging in the air with no clause to modify are not helpful in making clear what the great

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If All My Sins Are Forgiven, Why Must I Continue to Repent?

Stephen Wellum: It’s an understandable question: If we’re justified by faith and forgiven all our sins—past, present, and future—then why is it necessary to continue seeking forgiveness? Aren’t our sins already forgiven? Both Saint and Sinner  There are at least three biblical truths that must be kept together simultaneously. First, for those who have repented of sin and trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior, God declares them right before him on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and substitutionary death (Rom. 3:21–26; 5:1; 8:1, 30,33–34). As a declarative act of God and not a process by which we are infused with righteousness, justification takes place in the believer once for all time (Rom. 5:12–21; Phil. 3:8–9; 2 Cor. 5:19–21). Although everyone will stand before Christ’s judgment seat and hear the public verdict of whether or not we are in him (2 Cor. 5:10), for believers this end-time verdict has now been brought into the present. We have already crossed from death to

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Justifying a Non-Repeatable Justification

Nick Batzig: As there has been no small debate in recent decades over the doctrine of justification, I was delighted to come across a treatment of the once-for-all nature of justification in Geerhardus Vos’ Reformed Dogmatics. Having introduced the subject by explaining that the Roman Catholic church conflates justification and sanctification with it’s doctrine of a first and second justification, Vos explained that even within the Reformed tradition there have been those who have denied that justification was a once-for-all, non-repeatable act. Some within the Reformed tradition, he acknowledged, “think that justification repeatedly follows each confession of sin.” With these aberrant views in the background of his treatment, Vos went on to defend the majority Reformed view that “justification is an actus individuus et simul totus, that is, an indivisible act that occurs only once” by setting out six (typically brilliant) reasons why we must hold this view. Vos’ reasons for the belief that justification is non-repeatable are as follows:

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What is the Difference between Justification and Sanctification?

Erik Raymond: What is the difference between justification and sanctification? I am thankful that this is a frequent question that I get as a pastor; thankful because people are thinking but also because this is so important. After all, we are talking about our standing before God. In short, justification means we are declared righteous, while sanctification means growing in righteousness. Let me explain and contrast a bit further. Justification refers to God’s declaration that someone is determined to be righteous in his sight. This justification is a one-time act whereby God declares a sinner like you and me to be not only not guilty but perfectly righteous before his high bar of justice. How does God does this and maintain his justice? The basis for the divine declaration is the doing and dying of Christ. God credits (or imputes) us with the righteousness (merit) of Jesus. We are justified by grace (a gift) through faith (trusting in Jesus). Some

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Do Paul and James Disagree on Justification by Faith Alone?

Tom Schreiner: Critics of the slogan “faith alone” often point out that Scripture only speaks once about whether we are justified by faith alone—and that text denies it: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, CSB). What does James mean in saying we are justified by works? I won’t defend the truth of justification by faith alone in detail, but it’s clearly taught, for example, in Romans 3:28: “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Or, as Paul teaches inRomans 4:5, “God justifies the ungodly.” Both Abraham and David were justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 4:1–8; Gal. 3:6–9). Salvation, as Paul elsewhere demonstrates, is “by grace” and “through faith” (Eph. 2:8–9). Works are excluded as the basis of salvation—otherwise people could boast about what they have done. Salvation by grace through faith highlights the amazing and comforting truth that salvation is the Lord’s work, not ours. But does

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Everyday Justification

By Tim Chester, coauthor of Why the Reformation Still Matters. A Personal Doctrine Justification is not just a doctrinal or church doctrine. It is a deeply personal doctrine. Every time I sin, I create a reason to doubt my acceptance by God and I question my future with God. But day after day, the doctrine of justification speaks peace to my soul. This is especially true of imputed righteousness. Catholicism says that righteousness is imparted to us or infused into us, primarily through the sacraments. This righteousness is the potential to live a righteous life that pleases God. With God’s help mediated through the church, we may be accepted by God. We are justified by faith, but it is faith plus human effort. Declared Righteous In contrast, the Reformers spoke of imputed righteousness. Luther said saving righteousness is external or alien. In other words, it’s not our righteousness; it’s not something we achieve. Instead, Christ’s righteousness is given to us

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Paul and James on the Meaning of Genesis 15:6

Gerald Hiestand: One of the more revealing aspects of Paul and James’ soteriology is the different ways they both use Genesis 15:6 (“And Abraham believed God and it was counted for him as righteousness,”) as a proof text to defend their comments about the gospel. The key observation to make is that in Romans 4, Paul views the birth of Isaac as the fulfillment of Genesis 15:6, whereas in James 2, James views the offering of Isaac as the fulfillment of Genesis 15:6. These readings are not mutually exclusive, and ultimately serve as complementary theological readings of the same OT text. In what follows I offer a sketch (scratchy notes, if you will) of my reading of Paul and James’ use of Gen 15:6, with a view to showing how their use of this text sheds light on their respective soteriological frameworks. Paul and Genesis 15:6 In Romans 1-3 Paul is laboring to show that righteousness comes through faith in

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Is God always pleased with you?

Michael Kruger: Imagine this scenario. Your friend at church (who is a believer) comes to you and confesses an ugly sin they committed.  And they feel terrible about it.  What do you say? No doubt this scenario is played out countless times a week in evangelical churches all over the country–particularly given the church’s fascination with authenticity and vulnerability (see my post on that issue here).  And it is not always easy to know how to respond. But here’s one response that gets used a lot:  “Don’t feel bad about this sin.  If you are a believer, then God is always pleased with you.  He can never be more pleased with you than he is right now.” Is this response helpful?  Yes and no. It depends on what a person means and how they frame it. Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. 

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10 Things You should Know about Justification

Sam Storms: (1) Most Protestant Christians immediately think of the reformer Martin Luther when the subject of justification is raised. Early on Luther believed that, if the sinner would take the initiative by humbly calling on God and “doing what lies within”, God would respond with the grace of justification. This doctrine, however, brought Luther little comfort, for he found himself despairing of the ability to fulfill the condition of the covenant. He conceived of the “righteousness of God” as an impartial divine attribute according to which God either forgave or condemned the individual based on the latter’s response to the terms of the covenant. God’s righteousness, therefore, was not gospel (i.e., good news) for Luther but an ever-present threat. The transformation in Luther’s theology came with the recognition that the “righteousness” of God was, in fact, that according to which God graciously provided the very righteousness he required. (2) Luther’s concept of justification is best seen in the phrase

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Complete Assurance for Incomplete People

John Piper: By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14) Two things here are mightily encouraging for us in our imperfect condition as saved sinners. First, notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. “For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” He has done it. And he has done it for all time. The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever. Does this mean that Christians don’t sin? Don’t get sick? Don’t make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes? There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It’s the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who “are being sanctified.” The ongoing continuous action of the Greek present

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The “Just-as-if-I’d” definition of Justification

Erik Raymond: How would you define justification? I’ve heard some say that justification means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. Is this a helpful way to explain it? In one sense there is truth here. God does treat those who are justified as if they have never sinned. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1-2) rather than judgment from God. However, this just doesn’t go far enough. It leaves us short of what the Bible teaches and conveys an insufficient understanding of justification. Justification is the instantaneous and irreversible divine declaration of the unrighteous as positionally righteous, based upon the merit of Christ’s obedience, applied by grace and received through faith (Rom. 3.24-28; 4.1-5; 5.1-2). God declares the unjust to be just based upon Christ’s work for them. To simply say that justification is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned is to stop far short of what the Bible says. It does not take us far enough. Justification by faith alone is the

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It is God who justifies

It is God who justifies. — Romans 8:33 “Behold the eternal security of the weakest believer in Jesus. The act of justification, once passed under the great seal of the resurrection of Christ, God can never revoke without denying Himself. Here is our safety. Here is the ground of our dauntless challenge, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies.’ What can I need more? What more can I ask? “If God, the God of spotless purity, the God of inflexible righteousness, justifies me, ‘who is he that condemns?’ Sin may condemn, but it is God that justifies! The law may alarm, but it is God that justifies! Satan may accuse, but it is God that justifies! Death may terrify, but it is God that justifies! ‘If GOD is for us, who can be against us?’ Who will dare condemn the soul whom He justifies? “How gloriously will this truth shine forth in

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Which is better: Justification or Sanctification?

. . Mark Jones: . Why do we love justification and sanctification? And do we love one more than the other? . If you’ve ever been in a position where you think you might die, your theology really begins to matter, and you learn a great deal about yourself and what you believe. . A legalistic type of Christian probably needs to be confronted with the reality that he or she will die. When that reality hits, Christ’s righteousness and God’s mercy are no longer just doctrines to live by, but truths to die by. That is why justification by faith alone is a doctrine worth dying for: people need to die believing that truth. . The Puritan (ahem), Anthony Burgess, while vigorously opposing antinomianism, nevertheless suggested that the doctrine of justification, unlike any other, inclines God’s people to increased humility and self-emptiness, “for by this we are taught even in the highest degree of our sanctification, to look out

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