“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sola Fide Part 2 - The Instrument of our Justification

In my last post I wrote about the grounds of our justification; that being the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this post I am going to look at the instrument of our justification.

When we say sola fide -- 'faith alone' we are not saying that faith is our justification; faith is not the grounds of our justification, but the instrument of it.

Let me state it this way; we are saved through faith, but not because of faith. Our faith in and of itself is not salvific – it needs an object. Some would claim that if one simply has ‘more', or 'enough' faith then they would be saved, but it is not the volume of our faith that is justifying, rather it is the object of our faith – that is, Jesus Christ and His finished work.

People may have faith in many things, but only one thing is salvific -- the person and work of Jesus Christ. We can have faith that our favorite baseball team will make it to the World Series, but that will not save us -- we can have faith that our president will 'save' America, but that is not salvific -- it is only faith in the correct object; that being the person and work of Jesus Christ, that has any efficacy in our salvation.

And our faith is not even generated by us – it is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8, 9 -- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Even the faith to cry out to God is a gift from Him.

Sadly, we have come under what R.C. Sproul calls the ‘Pelagian Captivity of the Church”; we somehow believe that we come to the table with SOMETHING and only need a bit of a boost from God to affect our own salvation.

However, having said that; let me clarify something: faith is something that we take and work with. God gives the faith, but we are to believe. God does not believe for us. Faith is not some condition that we meet to merit salvation, but a gift from God that we exercise. God is the one who gives faith to us, but we then take this gift and reach out to Christ in awareness of our need. Faith is our open and empty hand reaching out to Christ.

So, faith is the instrument of our justification – faith, given by God, enables us to respond by reaching out to Jesus Christ so that we have His perfect righteousness imputed to us, giving to Him our sinful, soiled garment in the great exchange.

Let us meditate on those thoughts for a bit, and I will complete this section on sola fide in my next post.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sola Fide Part 1 - The Gounds of our Justification

I recently taught on the 5 'solas' of the Reformation, and I thought I would put some of my thoughts up on the blog.

I just noticed that I have only posted around 36 times this year -- that indicates what the pace and tenor of my year has been like!

The church has grown a bit, and it is interesting, but even a change of ten or twenty people in a small church affects the time of the pastor more than many would realize. And of course, my eyes were working through their paces this past year as well, which certainly slowed down my ability to regularly post. And then there is the very real aspect that I just did not have a lot to say that I felt was blog-worthy -- yes, I had some strong feelings about the election, and the economy, but there are many other people in the blogsphere that are much better, and much more qualified at commenting on these areas.

So, let me post on some things that I am more familiar with -- we will start with the first sola I taught on - sola fide

During the reformation there were five solas that were pillars of the Reformation - they were:

sola fide - faith alone
sola gratia - grace alone
solus Christus - by Christ alone
soli deo gloria - to the glory of God alone
sola scriptura - Scripture alone

I felt that our church would benefit from understanding what these solas really meant in the life and faith of the church, and spent five weeks talking on them (although I could have spent much longer).

sola fide is the doctrine that states that we are justified by faith alone. Luther said of this doctrine - "This doctrine [justification by faith] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour…. For no one who does not hold this article – or, to use Paul's expression, this 'sound doctrine' (Titus 2:1) – is able to teach aright in the church or successfully to resist any adversary . . . this is the heel of the Seed that opposes the old serpent and crushes its head. That is why Satan, in turn, cannot but persecute it."

Calvin's comment was that sola fide was the hinge on which everything else (in our faith) turns.

I want to first define justification, then I want to state the problem, and then touch upon three points. The three points are: the GROUNDS of our justification; the INSTRUMENT of our justification, and the RESULTS of our justification.

In this post we will look at justification and then discuss, briefly, the 'grounds' of our justification.

First and foremost – what exactly is justification? To say that we are justified is to say that we are declared right before God. God, in His role as the Holy, Righteous Judge of the Universe has declared us to be right. We are not declared righteous because WE ARE righteous; nor are we declared righteous on the grounds of our own belief. When we say that we are justified by faith alone, we are saying that the Holy Judge of the Universe has declared us to be righteous because of His Son, Jesus Christ and His work.

Sadly, the reality of our justification is either unknown, or taken for granted by many in the church today. We have lost our perspective, or never had one, on just how incredible our justification truly is. So, let me state the problem – it is found in Romans 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… As a matter of fact, if you put Romans 3 into its context, you begin to see the thrust of Paul’s argument and just how incredible it really is. In Romans 1 and 2 Paul builds the argument. He starts in Romans 1:16 by stating that he is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all men.

He then paints the picture – man is fallen, horribly and completely. Not just the Greek, but the Jew as well. All men are horribly and hopelessly fallen, and as of yet, Paul has not fleshed out the gospel. He has simply made the statement that it is the power of salvation. So first, Paul shows the situation that man finds himself in, and then in Romans 3, Paul begins to unpack the gospel. He starts in the opening verses of Romans 3, by reiterating that we have all fallen and cannot be justified by the Law or any other way. It seems hopeless – if one stops reading at this point, they will miss the thrust of the remainder of Romans.

Paul then begins to outline the gospel with those wonderful words – ‘But God…’ Romans 3:21 -- But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… How sweet those words should be to every Christian – we cannot span the chasm that separates us from God; there is no way one can work their way into being declared righteous; but God provided a way!!! And that way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. So, without further ado – let us now look at what, or rather who, our justification is grounded in:


What is the grounds of our justification – the foundation of our justification? Well, it is not something that is found within us – it is something OUTSIDE of us that causes us to be declared righteous before God, the Judge of the whole universe! It is not our intelligence, our good looks, our wisdom, or anything that God foresaw in us that is the grounds of our justification.

Here is what Paul says: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” [Romans 3:23b – 25a]

We are justified by redemption that is in Christ. Solus Christus – by Christ alone are we justified, through faith alone, by God’s grace alone. It is Christ’s righteous life that provides for us the grounds of our justification. The guilty are declared righteous because of the obedience of Christ. Think about that for a minute – let it sink in: to our account is accredited righteousness, because of the obedience of the Savior. And, horrific as it is to consider, He is declared sin for us. Therefore, as Paul says – God is just (He punished sin by laying it on His Son at the cross), and the justifier (God the Son justified His people through His obedience).

The grounds of our justification are under attack again in today’s world. There are those who would claim that we have misread Paul all these years and the reality is that we are responsible for some work in our justification, that we 'cooperate' with Christ in producing righteousness in ourselves. My friends this is a return to Rome – to the concept that we somehow can ‘improve’ upon the finished work of Jesus Christ through our own work. If that is the case, then we are all in trouble, because God Himself says that all our works are as filthy rags – so if Jesus Christ is not the grounds of our justification, we are doomed!

Notice in Romans 3 how Paul goes on to demolish this thought by stating that there is no room for boasting in our justification – we have nothing with which to boast – he brings this to the fore again in Ephesians 2:1 - 9 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

My friends, the sole grounds for our being declared righteous is the finished work of Jesus Christ – it is not within us, but in fact is an alien righteousness which is found ONLY in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior! And we see it in three ways:

(a) Jesus Christ is our substitution – in our place He suffered, taking upon Himself the righteous judgment of our sins, suffering at the hands of the righteous judge so that we would never have to say those horrific word – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”

(b) Jesus Christ is our propitiation – His death satisfied the wrath of a righteous and Holy God. It says in Psalm 7:11 - God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. The wrath of God was poured out on Jesus Christ.

(c) Jesus Christ is our reconciliation – Jesus Christ, through His work, has provided reconciliation between God and man. Romans 5:9 – 11 - Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Let that sink in for a bit and in the next post we will examine the instrument of our justification.