Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Good News Indeed!

 Martin Luther wrote that Justification by Faith alone was the article by which the church stands or falls. John Calvin wrote that it is the main hinge on which religion turns.”  And Thomas Cranmer wrote (Article XI) that:  “… Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort...   What these three Reformers were attesting to was that the gospel, inasmuch as it be good news to those who hear it, is embodied in the doctrine of Justification by Faith.  Whether of Germany, Switzerland, or England the Reformer's Biblical understanding of salvation led them to

conclude that to diminish or reject this doctrine of  faith alone was to retreat from the good news of Jesus Christ and fall back into the works-righteousness-justification fog of the Medieval Church.
Sola Fideism (by faith alone), a much misunderstood phrase, embodies the gospel.  Dr. R.Scott Clark at Heidelblog writes that sola fide is a shorthand way of saying that “faith - receiving and resting in the perfect, finished, whole, active and passive obedience of Christ for his people - is the alone instrument through which a sinner is justified before God.”  The questions then to be addressed is: why and how is sola fide essential to the good news?  To answer that we must look to the Law.
I think for many, who look to diminish or dismantle sola fide in God’s redemptive scheme, there exists an underestimation of the absolute righteous demands of God’s law (be ye perfect even as My Father is perfect) upon all mankind and the unbridgeable chasm between our most righteous works (filthy rags all before God's holy law) and the unblemished holiness required in order to stand justified before that law.

[Gal. 3:10-11] For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them. Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith…  [Rom.2:5-6] but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works;  [3:8] as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; [3:19b-20a]… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight…
This is some serious bad news!   And there is nothing one can do to change the “rules of the game.”  Yet something within us doesn’t buy this bad news as being quite as condemning as it really is.  Something inherent resides within us (Calvin calls it the relic of the flesh) that supposes there is some good we can and must bring to the table of God’s redemption.  That something which dwells within us is the sinful self-regard that "thinks more highly of himself than he ought" [Rom 12:8].  It is that which does not believe the truth that surely "nothing good dwells within my flesh." And, despite agreeing with the law via the benefit of a new heart and right-will through regeneration, I yet slip into the sin (Rom. 7) which subtly insists that my righteous intentions, prayers, faith, meditations, experiences, and works have some inherent value in climbing a meritorious ladder to God.
It doesn’t matter if one says, though erroneously, “but His grace has infused in me an inherent righteousness from which to live unto justification.”  It is not an "on and off" proposition with the law.  The law demands that I live not only in a righteous manner continually (no mulligans... we are forgiven - yet the Law demands complete holiness of life), but that my righteousness be as perfect as that of our divine Father in heaven... God Himself.  That the creature should somehow ascend toward the holiness of the Creator and from within himself produce virtue that matches God's Righteousness is pride and folly in the extreme.  Thus as Thomas Cranmer wrote in his Homily on the Salvation of Man (Of Justification), “but every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at GOD’S own hands...”

Where then is “another righteousness or justification” to be found for the inherently unrighteous sinner?  And how then is he to receive it at God’s own hands?  But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested… even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ… being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood… that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus… We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. [Rom. 3]
This good news of the Divine Transaction of the cross is that Jesus Christ, made like us, fully Man yet without sin, takes our sin upon Himself, bearing it and the condemnation and penalty rightly due our disobedience (to the law) by his suffering and death on the cross; but not only that. The penalty paid, He has risen in righteousness and, in exchange for our sins before the law, Christ now offers to his own the merit of His perfect obedience before that very law, which God imputes to us who receive it through faith... Christ's fulfilling of the Law for the redeemed.  The penalty for man's sin demanded by God's law is paid. The perfection of obedience demanded of the law is accomplished; both by the infinitely worthy God-Man Jesus. God is now both the just (His law is not compromised) and the justifier of the unjust. 
This Divine Transaction of grace rightly cuts against any pride of self-regard.  Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. [Romans 3:27]
Regarding this justification Dr. R. Scott Clark writes that, “That faith is never alone. [Yet] it does not justify because it is not alone. Those graces that accompany justifying faith do not constitute faith justifyingOnly Christ, the object of faith, makes faith justifying. This is the difference between Rome and the Reformation. For the Reformation, the accompanying graces are evidence and fruit of true faith. They tell us that one has a living faith. In that way, they are necessary.”

It is good news because by a free gratuitous act of favor and love, God has sought out and rescued the sinner, who though justly under the condemnation of the law, receives forgiveness of sins and salvation through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection on his behalf. Through faith in Him the sinner receives the gift of this Divine Transaction, exchanging the filthy rags of his imperfect works for Jesus's penalty-bearing and perfect obedience in all of the law. Thus the one who trusts in Christ’s work is declared justified before the same law that once condemned him.  This justification, completed and freely given, is not a blessing restricted solely to initial saving faith, but is the secure ground of the Christian’s life going forward from which all good works spring.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus... [Rom. 8:1]  This is the solid rock upon which the believer stands as he, with increasing gratitude, follows his Lord and Savior Jesus; Who, as his Advocate and Mediator in heaven, is ever his sure Justification before God. And by grace given, this sinner/saint walks in those good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in [Eph. 2:10b], not unto his own insufficient merit and righteousness, but unto the glory of God in Christ Jesus.
Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law. [Rom. 3:31]
Good news of justification received through the gift of faith apart from any works of our own. 
Good news of God’s freely given grace - cleansing from sin by Jesus’ blood and His righteous merit before the Law accounted to us - apprehended by faith alone.  This grace sustains, upholds, and comforts as we, with increasing gratitude and trust in His finished work, yield ourselves to works of righteousness through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
Good news indeed!  ... for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. [Eph. 2:8-10]  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. [Rom. 11:6]

Originally posted July 29, 2010

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