In the last post, I began to unpack the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I noted that without it, there is no good news of the Gospel. I thought I would begin once more with a little experiment I once did which illustrates this crucial doctrine of the Christian faith.
An experiment that illustrates "justification by faith alone".
I once did a little experiment. On a piece of paper I wrote, with my eyes closed, the word “righteousness” (which turned out very badly). The reason I began my experiment in this fashion is because the Bible describes me, apart from Jesus, as "spiritually blind" and "spiritual incapable" of exercising "righteousness" or what I shall call "in-line-ment" with God's will and character. Put another way, by myself, I am spiritually blind and without righteousness and thus, I am “not-in-line” with God. I then drew a solid straight line on the left side of the paper, representing “God”.
Next, I drew another solid red line parallel to the first line, representing “Jesus”. Jesus is Perfectly Righteousness, that is, always in-line-with-God by being God and perfect man. I then rewrote the word “righteousness” with my eyes open and near the red line. Although my writing was still not perfect, yet, because of Jesus (the red-line), what I wrote was acceptable and “lined-up” with the original solid line. Christ’s righteousness or “in-line-with God” achievement is credited as if I was always in-line-with-God. The little exercise illustrated “justification by faith alone”. In justification, the main question: how is a person made right with God? Today’s message will answer that question, which is central to the good news.
What is "Justification by faith?"
Justification by faith refers to God’s legal declaration of the sinner “lining-up-perfectly” with God because of Jesus’ “perfect alignment” credited to them in saving faith. In the last post, we noted that the reason for justification by faith in "God's grace alone". We then observed the the means by which we receive God's declaration of justification is by "faith alone". For those desiring to review what I said in the last post, the reader can click here: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2021/01/part-one-without-this-you-do-not-have.html.
In today's post, we shall continue by considering two more important truths associated with the doctrine of justification by faith. As was the case in the last post, we shall draw from the life of Abraham in Genesis 15, since New Testament authors such as Paul and James use that chapter to expound on the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.
The root of justification is Christ alone. Genesis 15:7-21
We saw in the last post how God's grace is the reason for justification and faith is the way we receive justification. But what about the "root" or "grounds" of justification? There is the solid ground of Christ's finished work on the cross (which, by extension, would include all He performed in perfect obedience leading up to the cross and His resurrection which validated it and makes application of the cross a reality to believers, see Romans 5:8-9; 4:25).
*In Genesis 15:1-2, Christ’s person is the ground of justification.
The pre-incarnate Christ (that is, "before-the-flesh" Son of God) came to Abram as the pre-incarnate Word in Genesis 15:1-2, as noted in the words: “the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision”. We can connect this Old Testament designation of "The Word" to that of Christ in the New Testament by following the following cross-references (see 1 Samuel 3:21; Psalm 33:6; John 1:1,14).
"The Word" spoke to Abram in Genesis 15:2 “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you, Your reward shall be very great.” Now what I find interesting is that there is a word-play between the word “delivered” in Genesis 14:20 and God as Abram’s “shield” in Genesis 15:2 (same Hebrew root, “megen”, shield, covering, protector). What is even more amazing about this connection is that Melchizedek spoke the words of blessing to Abram in Genesis 14:20 as a "type" or "foreshadow" of Jesus (Hebrews 7:3) and the pre-incarnate Christ Himself is speaking in Genesis 15:2! The words spoken to Abram are designed to console the troubled patriarch, and can serve to remind every believer of how much God cares for them. David writes, for example, in Psalm 119:114 “You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word.”
*In Genesis 15:7-21, Christ’s work is illustrated as the guarantee of justification.
We see the pre-incarnate Word of God speaking further with Abram. Literally, the rite of passing through the animal halves is God saying He will put Himself on the line and He alone will fulfill the covenant with Abram – an expression of God’s covenant of grace stated back in Genesis 3:20-21 with Adam and Eve. There, God provided both with coverings (shedding of blood); they had expressed saving faith in His promise (faith) and a declaration of the Gospel itself (3:15).
The result of justification is faith that is not alone. James 2:22-25
In as much as it is not the gospel to add to what God has done (legalism, adding works to faith). Yet, it is just as evil to say I can believe the Gospel and live as I please (license). In the last post, we had explored the doctrine of justification promoted by the Roman Catholic Church, noting that it requires the sacraments of baptism, penance and the remainder of its sacramental system to make justification a possibility in its system. When it comes to denying the need for good works following saving faith in justification, many professing Christians (whether evangelical protestants or mainline liberal denominations) commit this equally wrong error. To paraphrase Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great 19th century London Baptist preacher, we need to know the proper relationship between faith and works if we are to rightly expound Biblical doctrine.
The Gospel of the cross hangs between these two thieves of legalism and license. We must beware of legalism and license! Sometimes it is alleged that if we focus too much on "justification by faith alone", we will commit the error of preaching "anti-nomianism" or the error of saying: "believe what you want, live as you please". Yet, when the doctrine of justification by faith is preached rightly, the role of works as evidence to others that we are truly justified by faith is included in the overall Biblical portrayal. Let me state two thoughts on how we are to go about doing this as we head down the homestretch of today's post. by appealing to another phrase which emerged from the 16th century Protestant Reformation.
*We are saved by grace through faith alone.
Let us remember, the righteousness that God sees as acceptable and declares as “in-line” with Him is received by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.
*Unto a faith that is never alone.
Yet, let’s not forget, our justification is proved before others because true saving faith is never alone without good works following (James 2:17). James expresses this in James 2:22-23,
"You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
Many astute readers will notice that in verse 24, James says: "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone". Is James contradicting Paul in Romans and Galatians (and really, everything we have wrote in these last two posts, as well as the entire Protestant Reformation)? As always, we need to consider the context of James. The context of James 2 is not about how we receive justification (which is Paul's concern). Instead, James is concerned with "how do you prove to others that your are justified by faith?" Since fellow Christians cannot know for certain another's salvation, all we can discern when someone professes to be a Christian is by what sort of life follows from that profession. In short, James' point is that saving faith is demonstrated to people as true by what works follows from it (“walk the talk”). So as we can see, justification by faith does not promote some sort of "believing what I must and living what I please" theology or "easy-believism". In the final analysis, true saving faith before God is that which has received Christ and which has depended on His works. Both truths go together!