Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Vison (9/20/12): Thoughts on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith

Image:  Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) buttons for participants in the upcoming Keach Conference.  Keach defended the Biblical doctrine of justification in works like The Marrow of True Justification.
Note:  The notes below are adapted from the exposition of Galatians 2:16 in last Sunday’s sermon.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (Galatians 2:16).

The Protestant reformer Martin Luther called the doctrine of justification by faith “the article on which the church either stands or falls.”  Many hold the book of Galatians so dear, because, along with the book of Romans, it presents this great doctrine with such clarity.

Notice, in particular, that Paul draws a contrast in v. 16 between being “justified by the works of the law” and being justified “by the faith of Jesus Christ.”  The contrast is between two suggested means for achieving justification, a right standing with God.

The first is justification by the works of the law.  This refers to efforts to keep in full and without fault all God’s laws and commands.  The person who appeals to this means believes he will be justified by being a good person, or by living an exemplary moral life, or by meticulously following the teachings of his religion.

The second, in contrast, is being justified “by the faith of Jesus Christ.” There has been a debate among some grammarians as to whether the “of Jesus Christ” here is an objective genitive (by faith in Jesus Christ as the object) or a subjective genitive (by Jesus Christ’s faithfulness).  I think the traditional assumption that Paul intended an objective genitive is proved by his adding in v. 16, “even we have believed in Jesus Christ.”

The sense here is that one is justified in God’s sight the instant he believes and trusts in Christ and Christ alone for salvation, fully abandoning and renouncing any false hopes that he will be justified by his works.  There are some things in the Christian life that are gradual and incremental, like progressive sanctification.  There are other things, however, that are punctiliar.  They happen at a definite point and nothing can ever alter this reality.  The Bible teaches that the moment a person trusts in Christ he is justified in God’s sight.  Nothing or no one can ever take that away from him.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).

We need to be clear on another point here.  Faith is the means God uses to justify sinners; it is not the cause for his justification of sinners.  The doctrine Scripturally stated is justification by faith, not justification because of faith.

There is a clear grammatical reason for this.  In v. 16 when Paul says “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” he uses the preposition dia in the phrase “by faith.”  Dia can mean “because.”  When it has this meaning its object is in the accusative case.  But when its object is in the genitive case it has an instrumental meaning.  Here is it dia pisteos (with the noun faith, pistis, in the gentive case).  Our justification is not because we believe. It is the means God sovereignly uses to bring about our justification.  The point:  God even gives us our faith itself.  When we say that salvation is all of grace, we do mean all!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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