David Westerfield

Theology. Culture. Technology.

Tag: sola gratia

Five Solas of the Reformation: Southern Seminary

This was a theology conference put on by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the Five Solas of the Reformation in 2015. Enjoy!

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Justified By Faith or Through Faith?

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.

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A Promise of God’s Effective Grace to His People

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land.” – Ezekiel 34:11-13

Our God is not just a God who sits and waits for sinners to return to Him of themselves, but is One who goes out to find them, seeks them in power, who turns their hearts and their wills (being that they are dead in trespasses and sins), and brings them to Himself. Our God is not a God who just longs and desires for His people to be saved, but who actively goes out and saves them, through and through, from beginning to end, knowing they can do nothing of themselves, being utterly lost and ruined in sin.

In the New Testament, we then have the fulfillment of the verses from Ezekiel in Jesus when he says in John 6:39: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Jesus has saved His people on the cross, sealed in the resurrection, and it was an effective work, not a potential one. He Saved His people, He didn’t just make them savable. And Jesus shall lose none of those people given to Him by the Father from before the foundation of the world. What a hope!

It is promises like these and the assured hope within them which give those of us believing in Christ the power to live in holiness, lives pleasing to Him. And it is promises like these in which the Lord gives us grace when we turn from Him in sin. He is the source of our salvation, but also the source of our sanctification, or progressive holiness, that is, being made closer into His image and likeness. Apart from His working in us to will and to work for His good pleasure, we can do nothing correctly in any way that pleases Him.

This promise is our hope in evangelism and missions of all kinds. We preach the Gospel through truth and actions, through Scripture and changed lives reflecting the image of God out to the world; and then God, in power, uses that as He sees fit to bring those He’s chosen to save to faith, creating in them that which was not there: belief. God is the One who works to change people’s hearts to believe the Gospel and He will save His people. And our hope in evangelism is that He will use our witnessing, teaching and preaching to save His lost sheep, whom He’s appointed us to gather from among the nations, and down the street. Praise God for His effective grace! As a result, I can only echo with Paul, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36) That is the message of God’s effective grace, that it comes from Him alone, it is through Him alone in Christ, and it is all for His glory alone.

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