Over at USG I have been slowly but surely commenting on the T4G Affirmations and Denails. For those of you have not considered them or are not familiar with the statement at all, I wanted to give you a little taste of what I have been doing and encourage you to read the statement in its entirety by clicking on the link at the very bottom.
Here is my critique and commentary on Article 12:
We affirm that sinners are justified only through faith in Christ, and that justification by faith alone is both essential and central to the Gospel.Since this is the T4G Affirmation and Denials, I would recommend listening to Sproul's discussion on The Center of Christian Preaching: Justification by Faith or read my review or Challies' review. At the outset Sproul aptly quotes J.I. Packer who says, "Justification is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls, and ultimately, the doctrine upon which you and I stand or fall. This doctrine is the 'Atlas' upon which the whole of Christianity rests. Were Atlas to shrug, the entire structure of the Christian faith would fall to the ground and be shattered" (quoted by Challies).
We deny that any teaching that minimizes, denies, or confuses justification by faith alone can be considered true to the Gospel. We further deny that any teaching that separates regeneration and faith is a true rendering of the Gospel.
My favorite verses explaining justification by faith are Romans 1:16-17, 3:21-26.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." . . .The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 states:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies,1 not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous;2 not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone;3 not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ's active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith,4 which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.5 (1 Rom. 3:24, 8:30; 2 Rom. 4:5-8, Eph. 1:7; 3 1 Cor. 1:30,31, Rom. 5:17-19; 4 Phil. 3:8,9; Eph. 2:8-10; 5 John 1:12, Rom. 5:17).
Futhermore, Martin Luther says,
This doctrine [justification by faith] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour…. For no one who does not hold this article – or, to use Paul's expression, this 'sound doctrine' (Titus 2:1) – is able to teach aright in the church or successfully to resist any adversary . . . this is the heel of the Seed that opposes the old serpent and crushes its head. That is why Satan, in turn, cannot but persecute it (The Importance of Justification by Faith).That sinners might earn or add to their justification is surely a monumental perversion of the gospel. Justification is the declaration of sinners righteous because of Christ's active and passive obedience through the channel of faith (which is a gift from God alone). By this act, God imputes Christ's righteousness into our account and has already transferred our sin onto Him "nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14). I do not believe anymore is needed to be said to demonstrate that justification is central to the gospel and it the conerstone of true Christian religion.
What I am not saying neccessarily is that one most have a completely mature understanding of every aspect of the gospel to be saved. However, how can accept the gospel if they do not understand the foundation of it?
Furthermore, this immaturity is not the case with most. It is false teachers who would deny the real nature of justification who are rejecting the gospel yet claiming salvation. Paul discusses this sort of distortion of the gospel when he says, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galations 1:6-8).
The false gospel that Paul curses here is the preaching that one most add something to the work Christ accomlished--whether it is circumsion then or good works now. You cannot add to what God has declared righteous. We must live out that declaration continually, but, God forbid, we ever seek to add to it. I have discussed the issue of justification elsewhere.
Some try to verbally castigate the reformed tendency to have faith follow regeneration. Birth by the Holy Spirit allows one to have faith, but someone cannot expereince regeneration and not express his or her faith. You cannot seperate the two. I think these types of issues rise up from trying to place the work of God which happens almost instanteously in a formal time sequence. Regeneration comes before faith, but it seems strange to separate the two at all. Regeneration, faith, & justification to me form more of a chain each providing a link.
Amazing Grace by John Newton
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.