This was a theology conference put on by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the Five Solas of the Reformation in 2015. Enjoy!
Tag: sola fide
1. The Nature and Elements of Justification. Justification may be defined as that legal act of God by which He declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, or sanctification, and does not affect the condition but the-state of the sinner. It differs from sanctification in several particulars. Justification takes place outside of the sinner in the tribunal of God, removes the guilt of sin, and is an act which is complete at once and for all time; while sanctification takes place in man, removes the pollution of sin, and is a continuous and lifelong process. We distinguish two elements in justification, namely: (a) The forgiveness of sins on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The pardon granted applies to all sins, past, present, and future, and therefore does not admit of repetition, Ps. 103: 12; Isa. 44:22; Rom. 5:21; 8:1, 32-34; Heb. 10:14. This does not mean that we need no more pray for forgiveness, for the consciousness of guilt remains, creates a feeling of separation, and makes it necessary to seek repeatedly the comforting assurance of forgiveness, Ps. 25:7; 32:5; 51:1; Matt. 6:12; Jas. 5:15; I John 1:9. (b) The adoption as children of God. In justification God adopts believers as His children, that is, places them in the position of children and gives them all the rights of children, including the right to an eternal inheritance, Rom. 8:17; I Pet. 1:4. This legal sonship of believers should be distinguished from their moral sonship through regeneration and sanctification. Both are indicated in the following passages: John 1:12, 13; Rom. 8:15, 16; Gal. 4:5, 6.
UPDATE: I’ve reconsidered some of the things I originally wrote in this entry and come to understand that Scripture itself, apart from people in general, speaks of both being saved “through” faith and “by” faith and meaning the same thing. The important distinction I wanted to make here was that faith itself a gift granted by God, not something we conjure up out of our dead, sinful hearts. We’re saved by God through faith, a faith that He gives. And at the same time, we’re saved by that faith, for without it, we’re lost.
The distinction between these two ideas may seem like a minute point to contest in the world of theology. But each understanding has dramatic implications for how we view our justification before God. If on the one hand we view ourselves as being justified by faith, we will see it as the ground of our justification, where our doing and willing is what saves us. From talking to many believers, it seems this is how many of us view our justification or standing before God. Yet if on the other hand we view ourselves as having been justified through faith, then we see that our justification itself, and the faith required to obtain it, all rests on Christ’s work alone.
Now of course, many people simply say we are saved by faith and the mean the same thing as through faith. I’m not here to contest that. I’m speaking here of the theological difference of these two words, because each changes our perspective on it once pondered, I believe.
If our faith is the ground of our justification, then we can often wonder if we’re believing correctly or coming to Christ in the right way (which I have often had to dismantle as a concept for a few friends who doubted they had actually believed). But if we see that our justification is rooted purely upon the work of Christ to justify us by the power of His blood alone, then we see that faith is God’s instrument to bring us to Himself; that is to say that faith is a gift of God, not something we work up from within our sinful, unregenerate human nature. Regeneration precedes faith, or the new birth of the Holy Spirit spoken of in John 3 causes, or comes before, or immediately gives rise to faith, not vice-versa.
On the cross, Jesus bore the sins of any who would believe in Him. He atoned for their sin and wickedness, having become a perfect sin sacrifice, He turned away the wrath of God, He then died, and rose from the grave, conquering sin, death, and hell, that anyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life in Him. Within the work of the cross though, there is a giant, eternal, judicial act that occurs where the Father declares the believing sinner righteous in His sight, having the very righteousness of Christ imputed to him or made the sinners’ own. We are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and on our worst day or our best day (morally speaking) we can do no better than what Christ has already done at Calvary. This is justification. It is finished. I cannot make this any clearer.
A problem that I see amongst many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is the problem of sinning (which we all do), but then feeling totally unworthy to even approach the throne of God to confess those sins for fear of His wrath or disapproval. And in not approaching Him they then fall into more sin and thus the cycle continues, turning into a works-based approach to God. At the heart of this though is a misunderstanding or a lack of understanding (and believing with their hearts) in the justification that occurred at Calvary. At the cross, Christ became the believer’s sin substitute, he literally turned away the wrath of God, and the righteousness Christ earned has now become our own. At the cross, the Father declares the sinner to be righteous, because of Christ. So when we sin, that sin is covered by the blood of Christ. And not only so, but God couldn’t be more pleased with you, even in the midst of that sin, at that very moment! When the Father looks at you, even in the midst of your sin, He sees Christ! That is absolutely remarkable! You couldn’t have done any better than Calvary. It is through the lens of the cross of Christ that we view ourselves in relation to God now. As Romans 8:1 says firmly and confidently, “There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ.” Justification lies at the heart of the Gospel and is something we must grow in our knowledge of and belief in (by God’s grace) to even defeat the very sin that hinders us in approaching God.
Now, so that people reading this don’t go and take this to mean something it doesn’t, I want to clarify this point. Though the believing sinner is declared righteous in the sight of the Father based upon the free grace that comes from the cross of Christ, this does not mean that we continue the pursuit of sinning just because the Father declares us to be righteous. It means the opposite in fact. Because Christ has done this for us, how can we not but turn from our sin in great thanks? We are to never say in our hearts, “Well, because God sees me as He sees Christ, I can do whatever I want. I’m saved right? And my sin is covered … so why not?” I want to warn those of you who think this at some level: you may be in danger of having never possessed authentic, God-wrought faith to begin with. Why is this? If you claim faith in Christ, believing Him to be the only Son of God who became your sin substitute (the Gospel), and then continue living your life in a sinful, rebellious way, showing no real change, you may still be under the condemnation of God, not possessing true faith that saves. It is like saying, “I’m going to turn to the right,” but instead you continue straight ahead as if your words mean nothing. Your words don’t line up with your actions. It’s not about perfection though, because we all know, based on personal experience, that we all sin, every day, and fall short of the glory of God continually. It’s not about perfection, but it’s about direction. Do you struggle with your sin? Or do you pursue sin, unrighteousness and rebellion as if you were an unbeliever? Does your life look any different than that of the unbelieving world? You may need to check your faith for authenticity. It is a very dangerous thing to acknowledge salvation in Christ and yet show no change in your life from before your alledged salvation experience. You and those around you can have no confidence that you are saved if you live your life as if an unbeliever. It may be that you are one. The mark of the believer is one of change, but not perfection. It has been said many times, “Once saved, always saved.” But I prefer the phrasing I read off one of the articles on Monergism.com, “Once Saved, Always Changed.”
However, as believer’s, when we do sin, as a great friend of mine (Jon Dansby) put it, “We have the best theological view of ourselves in the midst of our sin.” When you are sinning, what do you have to offer God? Absolutely nothing. You are morally bankrupt. You’re a sinner through and through, and you know it. We are morally corrupt and defiled in our natural state, and this sinning could not make that any clearer. We trample on the glory of God every day with our sinning and our wicked hearts. And we deserve the hottest corner in hell for our actions against an infinitely glorious Creator, with whom there is no sin or unrighteousness. He would have been perfectly just to send us there for eternity with no mercy. Romans 3:9-18 comes alive in the midst of our sinning and is made to ring true of all of us. If we were to just leave it there, without any hope of being saved from this plight, then yes, we should all fear the eternal wrath and condemnation of God, and recoil in anguish at what befalls us, and we should mourn our eternal souls. But the doctrine of Justification comes in with mighty power and states that you the believer, a mere unworthy worm of a sinner, are declared by the great Judge, that could have poured out His wrath rightfully on you, to be righteous, because of the work of Christ on the cross. Because of His work, He has now, even in the midst of that sinning, imputed the righteousness He earned to you. What a great and glorious thing! What a great exchange! He took your sin from you, nailing it to the cross, and then gave you His righteousness! How glorious! What a great and wonderful, loving, merciful, kind, just God!
This is the hope that we exult in in the midst of sinning: that God declares sinners to be righteous through the cross of Christ. Understanding the judicial act that occurred at the cross and applying it to our lives is a life-long process of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And I pray for all of you, even those who don’t believe, that God would grant to you repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and in His wondrous work at Calvary.