Monday, August 29, 2011

The Gospel bottom line - not by any works...

In his book "What Is Faith" J. Gresham Machen wrote:
  • The man who has felt the burden of his sin roll away at the sight of the Cross, who has said of the Lord Jesus, "He loved me and gave Himself for me," who has sung with Toplady: "Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling"-- that man knows in his heart of hearts that the Apostle is right, that to trust Christ only for part is not to trust Him at all, that our own righteousness is insufficient even to bridge the smallest gap which might be left open between us and God, that there is no hope unless we can safely say to the Lord Jesus, without shadow of reservation, without shadow of self-trust: "Thou must save, and Thou alone." (p. 194)
The affirmation of the gospel's bottom line, the simple truth that cuts against the grain of the pride of our own works, can be found in Romans 4:
  • 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
Faith offers nothing to God. If it did, it would be a work and thus anything received would be that which was owed to it. Rather, faith simply trusts in Christ, receiving that which man needs but cannot supply, i.e. perfect works of righteousness that meet the standard of God's holy law. In not counting our many sins against us, God declares us righteous by faith apart from any works done by us. The securing of our salvation is (thankfully) out of our hands. We need salvation, not renovation. We look not to our works as a means of entrance into salvation nor as a surety to retain that salvation. It is all of grace, and our only glorying and boast is in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior, who bore the penalty of our sins upon the cross. And yet, there are good works in our lives. But these works are not evidences of any inherent righteousness within us now. Rather our good deeds, though imperfect, are acceptable offerings to God through faith and flow forth as a grateful response to grace bestowed, the fruit of trust in Christ alone.

More from J. Gresham Machen in "What Is Faith" -
  • "That is the centre of the Christian religion--the absolutely undeserved and sovereign grace of God, saving sinful men by the gift of Christ upon the cross. Condemnation is earned by men; salvation is given by God" ( p.194).
  • "If our salvation depended upon what we have done, then, according to Paul, we should still be bondslaves; we should still be endeavouring feverishly to keep God's law so well that at the end we might possibly win His favour. It would be a hopeless endeavour because of the deadly guilt of sin; we should be like debtors endeavouring to pay, but in the very effort getting deeper and deeper into debt. But as it is, in accordance with the gospel, God has granted us His favour as an absolutely free gift; He has brought us into right relation to Himself not on the basis of any merit of ours, but altogether on the basis of the merit of Christ. Great is the guilt of our sins; but Christ took it all upon Himself when He died for us on Calvary. We do not need, then, to make ourselves good before we become God's children; but we can come to God just as we are, all laden with our sins, and be quite certain that the guilt of sin will be removed and the we shall be received. When God looks upon us, to receive us or to cast us off, it is not we that He regards but our great Advocate, Christ Jesus the Lord. // Such is the glorious certainty of the gospel. The salvation of the Christian is certain because it depends altogether upon God; if it depended in lightest measure upon us, the certainty of it would be gone. Hence appears the vital importance of the great Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone; that doctrine is at the very centre of Christianity" (p. 200).


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Of Justification and Sanctification...

What sanctification is and how it operates in our lives as believers in Christ has been an ongoing topic of inquiry of mine for some time.  Being that the human heart at times can so easily deceive itself and revert to a subtle and deceptive form of works righteousness, upsetting our comfort and assurance,  I thought it would be helpful to put together the relevant articles and chapters on Justification and Sanctification from the following:


The Belgic Confession
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion
The Heidelberg Catechism
The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Westminster Shorter Catechism
The Westminster Larger Catechism 

I've highlighted certain portions that I struck me as especially important as regards our justification or righteousness by faith in Christ, the process of sanctification and what it contains.

BC-Article XIII: Of Justification
We believe that our salvation consists in the remission of our sins for Jesus Christ's sake, and that therein our righteousness before God is implied: as David and Paul teach us, declaring this to be the happiness of man, that God imputes righteousness to him without works. And the same apostle saith, that we are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption which is in Jesus Christ. And therefore we always hold fast this foundation, ascribing all the glory to God, humbling ourselves before him, and acknowledging ourselves to be such as we really are, without presuming to trust in any thing in ourselves, or in any merit of ours, relying and resting upon the obedience of Christ crucified alone, which becomes ours, when we believe in him. This is sufficient to cover our iniquities, and to give us confidence in approaching to God; freeing the conscience of fear, terror and dread, without following the example of our first father, Adam, who, trembling, attempted to cover himself with fig-leaves. And verily if we should appear before God, relying on ourselves, or on any other creature, though ever so little, we should, alas! be consumed. And therefore every one must pray with David: O Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

39 Articles-XI. Of the Justification of Man.
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

WCF_Chapter XI: Of Justification
I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.
III. Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real and full satisfaction to His Father's justice in their behalf. Yet, in as much as He was given by the Father for them; and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for any thing in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice, and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.
IV. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit does, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.
V. God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God's fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.
VI. The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.

WSC-Q. 33. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

WLC-Question 70: What is justification?
Answer: Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

WLC-Question 71: How is justification an act of God's free grace?
Answer: Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God's justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet inasmuch as God accepts the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.

WLC-Question 72: What is justifying faith?
Answer: Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

WLC-Question 73: How does faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
Answer: Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.

HC-Question 61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?
Answer: Not that I am acceptable to God, on account of the worthiness of my faith; but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, is my righteousness before God; and that I cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only.

BC-Article XIV: Of man's Sanctification and Good Works
We believe that this true faith being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God, and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true, that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man: for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith, which is called in Scripture, a faith that worketh by love, which excites man to the practice of those works, which God has commanded in his Word. Which works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by his grace: howbeit they are of no account towards our justification. For it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the fruit of a tree can be good, before the tree itself is good. Therefore we do good works, but not to merit by them, (for what can they merit?) nay, we are beholden to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Let us therefore attend to what is written: when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do. In the meantime, we do not deny that God rewards our good works, but it is through his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable; and although we could perform such works, still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them. Thus then we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences continually vexed, if they relied not on the merits of the suffering and death of our Savior.

39 Articles-XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

WCF-Chapter XIII: Of Sanctification
I. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
II. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.
III. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

WSC-Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

WLC-Question 75: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is a work of God's grace, whereby they whom God has, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.

WLC-Question 77: Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
Answer: Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputes the righteousness of Christ;in sanctification his Spirit infuses grace, and enables to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one does equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

HC-Question 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?
Answer: Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

WLC-Question 78: Whence arises the imperfection of sanctification in believers?
Answer: The imperfection of sanctification in believers arises from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins, are hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.

HC-Question 63. What! do not our good works merit, which yet God will reward in this and in a future life?
Answer: This reward is not of merit, but of grace.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sanctification makes us righteous?

In summing up the differences between justification and sanctification, Kevin DeYoung in an online essay at The Gospel Coalition writes:  "One reckons us righteous; the other makes us righteous. One allows for no increase or degrees; the other expects progress and growth. One is a declaration of God about us, the other a work of God in us."  

I'm having difficulty with the description of sanctification as that which "makes us righteous."  I think, at best, it is a confusing phrase.  When Kevin writes that sanctification "expects progress and growth", I take it he is referring back to the phrase makes us righteous.  So, is sanctification a process of being made more and more righteous?  One hang-up with that construction is that it implies one can be partially righteous.  Kind of like the oxymoron of a woman being "almost pregnant."  She either is or she isn't.  I don't see how there can be such a thing as partial righteousness.  If a work is righteous then it is without any imperfection or impurity.  And in this life that will never be the case as taught in the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 78. Whence ariseth the imperfection of sanctification in believers?
A. The imperfection of sanctification in believers ariseth from the remnants of sin abiding in every part of them, and the perpetual lustings of the flesh against the spirit; whereby they are often foiled with temptations, and fall into many sins, are hindered in all their spiritual services, and their best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.


Now what I am not saying is that in response to the gospel believers do not exhibit good works in their lives or grow in those godly characteristics that are called "the fruit of the Spirit."  Clearly where true faith exists there will be evidence (good works) of a new heart and right-will born of the Spirit, works that are nonetheless imperfect (not righteous in and of themselves).  A new direction unto righteousness will be there, evidence of our faith in Christ.  This, of course, is the point of Martin Luther's quote, "We are saved by faith alone but not by faith that is alone."


But I don't think one should say that the good works of a believer are evidence of a growing or progressing righteousness within the believer which seems to be a logical inference from the above definition of sanctification.  Rather, aren't good works evidence of a true and lively faith, as taught in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the WCF and the WLC:


XII. Of Good Works.
ALBEIT that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgement, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

WCF 16.2 states, "These good works, done in obedience to God's commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith...." The WLC speaks in a similar way, of "the good works that are the fruits" of the "faith [that] justifies a sinner in the sight of God...."

I take the above to be simply saying that good works are to a lively faith what fruit is to a tree.  And it is faith that apprehends the righteousness of Christ, "But the righteous shall live by faith."  John Calvin wrote, "In short, I affirm, that not by our own merit but by faith alone, are both our persons and works justified; and that the justification of works depends on the justification of the person, as the effect on the cause" (Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote).  So I don't think we can say that good works are evidence of a progressing righteousness within us.  Instead, they are evidence of  having found complete salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.  It is all His accomplishment.  But hasn't God foreordained believers to be conformed to the image of His Son?.  Yes, His work.  And aren't we exhorted "to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work"?... indeed, but isn't that fruit in every good work still imperfect?

Sanctification is a "work of God in us."  Yet, by defining this work as that which makes us righteous, I find my eyes deceptively drawn away from Christ's provision of pardon and perfect obedience on my behalf to a mixed-motive heart inside of me.  Inevitably, I'm searching within for evidence of that which supposedly should be produced by sanctification.  For what I long for is true righteousness in me.  But it is not to be found there, unless of course, I entertain a weak view of sin and righteousness, which is just another way of saying it isn't there.  And where has faith gone?  It has been assigned a bystander role as I vainly work to progress along a righteousness-making path.  To the HC:

Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?
Answer: Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
Question 63. What! do not our good works merit, which yet God will reward in this and in a future life?
Answer: This reward is not of merit, but of grace.

The acceptance of our imperfect works as righteous is not of their deservings but of God's grace.  The already but not yet formulation is applicable here.  We are already accounted righteous for Christ's sake, but in this life not yet righteous... whether partially or in whole.  "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God(1 Cor. 5:21).

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 
(1 John 3:2-3)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Our faith is built upon Thy promise free...

In this morning's worship we opened with the hymn I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art.  I so enjoyed singing this song of praise and worship that I decided to google it in order to find out who wrote it.  Although not dispositive, there is evidence that it was written by John Calvin.  Yes, I know the RPW psalmody-only-chorus will object and point out that Calvin was a Psalms-only-man and that the hymn could very well have been penned by Jean Garnier.  For purposes of this post it is really not an issue.  But here is a blip that weighs in for Calvin:

The hymn first appeared in the 1545 Strasbourg Psalter, the very same year Calvin produced the new liturgy for his old congregation. Is it not possible that he wrote the hymn for them too? According to Philip Schaff, it was also discovered in ‘an old Genevese prayer-book.’ (Christ in Song, Anson Randolph, New York, 1869, 678). While external evidence might not be conclusive (see Bushell, op.cit., [Michael Bushell, The Songs of Zion, Crown and Covenant Publications, Pittsburgh, Pa., 1980."] p.199, n. 56), strong internal evidence of style and piety comparing the hymn with Calvin’s recorded prayers arguably strengthens Schaff’s case for Calvin’s authorship of the hymn.  
The Westminster Directory of Public Worship (1645) article by Alan Clifford, 1989 
The lyrics:
I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Saviour of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place:
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
O comfort us in death's approaching hour,
Strong-hearted then to face it by thy pow'r.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast thou and no bitterness:
Make us to taste the sweet grace found in thee
And ever stay in thy sweet unity.

Our hope is in no other save in thee;
Our faith is built upon thy promise free;
O grant to us such stronger hope and sure
That we can boldly conquer and endure.



In particular I loved the last stanza and, in light several of my recent posts (here, here, and here) on faith, I want to expand on "Our faith is built upon thy promise free."  His promise free, the gospel, is the food that feeds and builds our faith.


For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness... 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all...
(Romans 4) ESV


In the ears of the hearer, the proclamation of the good news of God's free and gratuitous salvation in Christ Jesus is that which initiates, nourishes, and builds faith.  That growing faith in Christ alone, apart from any works of our own, is at the center of what strengthens our sure hope and is inseparable from our sanctification... our conquering and endurance.  This faith is not some empty effort exerted by the hearer, but a work and gift of the Spirit who, through the preaching of the Word, presents Christ crucified as food to his people... the sure and only refuge in their sojourn.  The presentation of God's free promise of righteousness through faith to all that believe is food for the soul on every Lord's day.  And it is reinforced as the Lord's people partake of Christ's body and blood in the Supper.  In the words of the Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer:


THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.
THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ's Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful. 


Personally, I'm partial to the idea that this hymn was composed by Calvin.  But regardless of who was the author, the truths contained therein are both solid and eternal.