Dressed in His Righteousness Alone

What Is Justification by Faith? David Briones: I’ll never forget meeting up with a mentor of mine at Starbucks shortly after becoming a Christian. We regularly met there to read and study the Bible. One day, a person walked by and was elated to find Christians. But during our conversation, my mentor began asking some pretty forthright questions, and I couldn’t quite understand why. “Do you believe that a person is justified by faith alone?” he said. The stranger hesitantly responded, “No, I believe that a person is justified by faith and works.” My mentor graciously but strongly insisted, “Then you don’t have a biblical view of justification.” A lot of back-and-forths followed, but because I was a recent convert, I found it immensely difficult to understand what was going on. I barely understood what the term justification meant! Eventually, I discovered the importance of this vital doctrine. Martin Luther and other Reformers considered the doctrine of justification by faith alone the article on which the

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Is the Reformation Over?

R.C. Sproul: There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting. Contrary to some of these contemporary assessments of the importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we recall a different perspective by the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformers. Luther made his famous comment that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is

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Justification by Faith, its Heritage, its Necessity, and its Attackers

J.I. Packer: Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ—the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in mediaeval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed that Papal Rome had apostatised from the gospel so completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue within her ranks. Justification by faith has traditionally, and rightly, been regarded as one of the two basic and controlling principles of Reformation theology.

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Four Implications of Martin Luther’s Theology

Sinclair Ferguson: What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Martin Luther, they carry four implications: The first implication is the knowledge that the Christian believer is simul iustus et peccator, at one and the same time justified and yet a sinner. This principle, to which Luther may have been stimulated by John Tauler’s Theologia Germanica, was a hugely stabilizing principle: in and of myself, all I see is a sinner; but when I see myself in Christ, I see a man counted righteous with His perfect righteousness. Such a man is therefore able to stand before God as righteous as Jesus Christ—because he is righteous only in the righteousness that is Christ’s. Here we stand secure. The second implication is the discovery that God has become our Father in Christ. We are accepted. One of the most beautiful accounts found in Luther’s Table Talk was,

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The Very Heart of the Reformation

R.C.Sproul: At the very heart of the controversy in the sixteenth century was the question of the ground by which God declares anyone righteous in His sight. The psalmist asked, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). In other words, if we have to stand before God and face His perfect justice and perfect judgment of our performance, none of us would be able to pass review. We all would fall, because as Paul reiterates, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). So, the pressing question of justification is how can an unjust person ever be justified in the presence of a righteous and holy God? The Roman Catholic view is known as analytical justification. This means that God will declare a person just only when, under His perfect analysis, He finds that he is just, that righteousness is inherent in him. The person cannot have that righteousness

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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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The Reformation Rescued the Gospel

R.C. Sproul: In the old city of Geneva, Switzerland, there’s a lovely park adjacent to the University of Geneva, close to the church where John Calvin preached and taught daily. The park contains a lasting memorial to the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. The central feature is a magnificent wall adorned with statues of Calvin, John Knox, Huldrych Zwingli, Theodore Beza, and others. Chiseled into the stone are the Latin words Post tenebras lux (“After darkness, light”). These words capture the driving force of the Reformation. The darkness referred to is the gospel’s eclipse in the late Middle Ages. A gradual darkening reached its nadir, and the light of the doctrine of justification by faith alone was all but extinguished. Fuel for Fire The Reformation firestorm was fueled by the most volatile issue ever debated in church history. The church had faced severe crises in the past, especially in the fourth and fifth centuries when the nature of Christ was at stake. The

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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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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,

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Calvin’s pastoral piety

The Christian life is: “Intensely personal but never individualistic. Woven through with the great doctrines of justification by faith and regeneration of life, the glory of God and providence. Undergirded with prayer, proclaimed in word and shared in sacraments, sung in psalms. Embodied in action and demanding respect for the neighbor and solidarity with those who suffer in spirit, mind, or body. Not an easy or comfortable piety; it asks for one’s all. Sturdy and down to earth, lived in the mundane context of daily work, yet always conscious of the presence of the transcendent God and the high calling of living before God. An energizing, lifelong response to God’s liberating claim, God’s righteous mercy, God’s compelling love, a belonging that is all our joy.” –Elsie McKee, ed., John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety (Paulist, 2001), 34-35 (HT: Dane Ortlund)

Gospel Fellowship

Dane Ortlund: Silly Peter: ‘Before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party’ (Gal 2:12). Fellowship broke. Now how does Paul handle this? Certainly, he rebukes Peter—’I opposed him to his face’ (2:11). Yet how does Paul do this? What is his diagnosis?Paul identifies Peter’s error as gospel error. ‘I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel’ (2:14). What was Peter’s mistake? Gospel leakage. But in what way was Peter’s heart leaking out gospel? How specifically was he not believing the gospel?The text tells us: ‘fearing the circumcision party’ (2:12). Fear. That was what drove Peter. To sum up: Paul says Peter feared other men, causing him to not walk in step with the gospel, causing him to introduce all kinds of dysfunction into his relationships with other people. I conclude: the gospel liberates us not only from

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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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