Posted On March 20, 2013

Justification: The “Lost” Doctrine in the American Pulpit

by | Mar 20, 2013 | Church History, What is the Gospel?

I am so very thankful for the recent resurgence among the “Young, Restless, and Reformed”—as Collin Hanson with The Gospel Coalition would call it—who preach the gospel and it’s core doctrine of justification by faith alone week by week. Sadly, this is not the case across America.

Luther called the doctrine of justification by faith alone “the head and cornerstone” and explained that “without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour?” He writes in his commentary on the book of Romans that “all men are sinners and in need of [God’s] righteousness.” It was not simply a general “salvation,” but God’s righteousness that provided the foundation for salvation. Calvin wrote, “Wherever the knowledge of [justification] is taken away…the hope of salvation is utterly overthrown.”

Indeed, sola fide was the battle cry of the Reformation and remains the bond between the various branches and denominations of the Protestant church. Certainly this doctrine is not just central to the Christian life or the hope of the church; it should also central to teaching and preaching.

So what do we mean when we say “justification by faith alone?” What is the historical, Reformed, and biblical understanding? The Westminster Shorter Catechism states: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us a righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

Justification is the declaration of “not guilty” or “righteous” of a believer in Christ based on the imputation of the believer’s sin to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to the believer. This is called double imputation and is the foundation of God’s pardoning and declarative act.

Justification in Paul’s letters, expounded by the Continental Reformers and Post-Reformation Puritans, is chiefly a forensic term. That is, it is understood in the context of law, guilt, grace, and pardon. The current attack on the doctrine is over this basic belief and insists that justification has more to do with a process of staying in the covenant community of God’s people than with God’s one-time declarative act.

The “great exchange” of the gospel is our sin imputed (or credited) to Christ and his righteousness to us. Richard Gaffin notes, “Justification in Paul is essentially, primarily soteriological. It is a ‘transfer’ term describing what takes place in an individual’s transition from wrath to grace.” He goes on to build the relationship between our union with Christ by faith and the doctrine of justification: “In union with Christ, his righteousness is the ground of my being justified. That is, in my justification his righteousness becomes my righteousness. This…is to be at the notion of imputation. His righteousness is reckoned as mine.”

As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is this imputed alien righteousness that is missing in our current, post-modern preaching and teaching. The present challenge to justification “obscures half of Christ’s glory in the work of justification…it denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

Paul makes the case in Romans 4 that the righteousness “credited” to our account is received by faith and not “works of the law.” He makes the same argument in Philippians 3:9, where he writes that righteousness comes “through faith in Christ.” Moreover, it is this ideology and belief that Jesus attacks throughout the gospels, predominately recognized among the Pharisees and “teachers of the law.”

If we don’t preach justification, we don’t preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. To be sure, justification is the core of the gospel, the “article on which the church stands for falls,” and the only hope for guilty sinners. It is the means by which we lay down our attempts to justify ourselves and trust in the sufficiency of Christ.

I am grateful for the recent conscientious reaffirmation of the doctrine of justification. Let us thank God for counting us “righteous” in his sight based on the merits of his Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Related Posts

Reflections on the Incarnation: What Is It, Why Does It Matter?

Reflections on the Incarnation: What Is It, Why Does It Matter?

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In this verse, we find one of the greatest divine mysteries: The Lord Jesus Christ coming as the God-Man to save sinners. The infinite, eternal, and unchanging God becomes a man. The One who dwelt for all...

A Virgin Birth, the Big Bang, and Why Christmas Happened

A Virgin Birth, the Big Bang, and Why Christmas Happened

The Virgin Birth “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isa. 7:14) “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins....

The Relevance of the Reformation for the 21st Century

The Relevance of the Reformation for the 21st Century

Is Reformation theology still relevant today? Absolutely! It reminds us that we have a big God and that salvation is found in Him alone. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for God’s glory alone. And we know this because Scripture alone...

Reformation as Rediscovery of the Gospel

Reformation as Rediscovery of the Gospel

Countless historians have gone to great lengths to explain the Reformation through social, political, and economic causes.[1] No doubt each of these played a role during the Reformation, and at times a significant role.[2] Yet most fundamentally, the Reformation was a...

Reflections on Eternity: Lorraine Boettner’s View of Immortality

Reflections on Eternity: Lorraine Boettner’s View of Immortality

Reflections on Eternity: Lorraine Boettner’s View of Immortality A few years ago, I was invited into a charity warehouse to choose some books. That organization has done a lot of great work in Eastern Europe, and they wanted to do something to support my ministry in...

Why Hell Exists

Why Hell Exists

Scripture provides vivid warnings of judgment and eternal hell for those who don’t repent and believe in Christ. Such warnings occur throughout the Bible and in Jesus’ earthly teaching. In Revelation 14, those who reject Christ and instead worship the beast “will be...

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share
Tweet
Email
Reddit
Share