“By Faith Alone” Part 2
July 16, 2017
This week I read this statement by John MacArthur in Justification by Faith Alone: “No doctrine is more important to evangelical theology than the doctrine of justification by faith alone.” That’s a strong statement. J. I. Packer affirmed that statement when he wrote, “Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as…the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in mediaeval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death.” [“Preface,” James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification.]
If those statements about the priority of justification through faith alone are true, then one of the most significant chapters in the Bible is Romans 4 — because it defends the doctrine of sola fide, even from the OT and particularly from the life of Abraham.
As we come to this topic, what do we mean by the phrase, “justification by faith alone?” There are four emphases in those words:
- Justification by faith alone — the believer in Christ is declared righteous and imputed with the righteousness of Christ; Christ’s righteous life and propitiating work on the cross is accounted to the sinner though he is not righteous himself. (This is in contrast to the RC teaching that the believer is infused with righteousness when he is saved and that “faith is the beginning of salvation.” [Counsel of Trent] If we are infused with Christ’s righteousness, then on the basis of 2 Cor. 5:21, He must also be infused with our sin, and if Christ has infused sin, then He would be inherently evil and unable to atone for either His own sin or ours, and both He and we would remain under God’s eternal, condemning wrath).
- Justification by faith alone — faith does not save, but faith is the means or instrument of justification; faith is the hand that receives the gift of justification, but faith itself does not procure justification. “We are not saved for believing but by believing.” [Beeke, in Justification by Faith Alone, 62]
- Justification by faith alone — the significance of faith is the object of what we believe, Christ alone: “Faith = Forsaking All I Trust Him.” “Strictly speaking, the true Christian church does not teach justification by faith. It teaches justification by Christ.” [Gerstner, Justification by Faith Alone, 110.] There is work involved in this saving faith, but the only work that counts is the work of Christ for us as our substitute. There is no work that any man can do that can affect his salvation.
- Justification by faith alone — the only One that can produce our justification is Christ and we believe in Him and Him alone to justify us. In contrast, RC teaches that faith is only the beginning of our salvation, received not through faith, but baptism.
Because pride and self-righteousness are so pervasive, this debate about justification is not a new one; so in this chapter, Paul emphasizes the truth that we have come to summarize in the statement, sola fide. Paul’s theme in these verses is that —
Justification is received only by grace through faith.
In these verses we will find 7 attributes of justifying faith — the kind of faith that leads to justification:
- Justifying Faith Trusts in the Character of God (v. 17)
- Justifying Faith Persists in Hope (v. 18)
- Justifying Faith Trusts God in Spite of Circumstances (v. 19)
- Justifying Faith Does Not Doubt God (v. 20a)
- Justifying Faith Endures (v. 20b)
- Justifying Faith Glorifies God (v. 20c)
- Justifying Faith is Confident in God’s Character and Ability (v. 21)
- Conclusion: This kind of faith (and only this kind) produces justification (v. 22)
While these verses are about Abraham’s faith, Paul will say that the things written about Abraham were “for our sake also” (v. 24) — that is, the way that Abraham came to be justified by God is the same way that we come to be justified.
So if we want to understand the doctrine of sola fide — justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone — then we must understand the life of Abraham. Nothing about how people are justified has changed from the Old Testament until now; it’s always been by grace through faith. It was that way for Abraham and it is that way for us as well.
So how is one justified?
Download the rest of this sermon on Romans 4:17-22.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website this afternoon.