• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Justification By Faith Alone

and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith Philippians 3:9NKJV

Question 70 of the Larger Catechism, asks, “What is justification?” It gives the answer, “Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.” Last time we examined how, in justifying a sinner, God’s wrath is satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice and His righteousness is fulfilled by His obedience. This week we consider how a sinner receives God’s justification: by faith alone. Thus far we have seen that justification is an act of God. God is the only one who justifies sinners. He does this in a moment by declaring the sinner justified. God justifies sinners by pardoning them of their sins and by accepting them as righteous in His sight. He does this solely for the satisfaction rendered by Christ to His perfect law, which both fulfilled its demands and satisfied its penalties. Therefore, this act of justification is an act of free grace toward the sinner who does not deserve or earn it in any way. Christ Jesus paid it all. All to Him we owe. Yet the Bible is very clear that not all sinners are justified, only those who receive it. Accordingly, how do sinners receive justification?

The Catechism answers that the sinner receives justification “by faith alone.” The Scripture verse at the head of this article confirms that the righteousness that justifies is not a works-righteousness personally wrought out and achieved by the sinner in order to earn his justification. The righteousness which justifies is a righteousness received by faith. As we saw a few weeks ago, we are justified by works-righteousness; but it is the works-righteousness of Jesus Christ who perfectly kept the law in our place. As the Catechism states it, God “accepteth and accounteth [us] righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in [us] or done by [us], but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to [us], and received by faith alone.” God imputes, that means he credits or accounts to us, what Jesus Christ did, and we receive that imputation, not just by faith, but by faith alone!

Sola fide, Faith alone is one of the great battle cries of the Reformation. The sinner does no works that in any way elicit God’s act of justification. With respect to our justification, even all of our “best” works would only serve to provoke God to condemn us! Therefore, in order to be justified by God the sinner must believe, he must have faith. Here the word “faith” or “belief” is equivalent to “trust.” The sinner receives the sentence of “justified” from God the moment he trusts in Jesus Christ alone as his only savior. However, it is vitally important that we do not merely say we are justified by faith, when we are explaining the doctrine of justification. It is true that we are justified by faith, but only when we add qualifying words or phrases like “alone” do we fully guard the doctrine of justification from the pride and wickedness of human works.

Thus, the Scripture at the head of this article contrasts the righteousness received “by faith” in Jesus Christ: “the righteousness which is from God;” with “my own righteousness, which is from the law.” As soon as we would allow any of our justification to be based, even to the slightest degree on our works, then justification would no longer be an act of God, it would no longer be an act of grace, but it would be a work that we would have to accomplish in order to earn it. Thus, if even our faith had to be mustered up from our own sinful natures, then sinners would have to earn their justification by performing the required work of faith. The true graciousness of our justification is seen in the fact that the faith God requires in order to receive justification, He Himself graciously gives in the work of the new birth. Lord willing, we will look more at this truth in the next several questions.

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