Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Former Heavens and Earth Forgotten

Isaiah 65:17 "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind."

There is much every true believer would like to forget. There are wounds that will never be healed this side of eternity. There is pain that never ceases. There are physical infirmities that will never stop. There is mental anguish and sadness that turns our bones to rot. No matter how "story-book" a life is in our fallen world, unstoppable calamities will come. Something will eventually kill us and everyone we love. There will be people we love dearly we will have no choice but to watch them suffer terribly. There will be unrealized dreams, unfulfilled expectations, and hopes that will not come to pass.

It is comforting and difficult to think all of it is decreed by God to take place for the accomplishment of His glory. I've wondered for a long time if there will be any memories of this world in heavenly glory. Some things are so painful, so awful, so heartbreaking that the only possibility of deliverance would be a complete erasure of those things from our minds. In this passage of Isaiah 65:17, it seems that in the new heavens and the new earth at the inauguration of the eternal bliss and happiness of God's church, the former heavens and earth shall not be remembered or come to mind. This is surely an encouraging thought. For who would want to remember their life in the realm of the curse of God for sin for the rest of eternity? The Good News's final goal is our comprehensive deliverance from the bondage of the cursed world into the glorious liberty of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. The tears, sicknesses, woes, anxieties, and brokenness of this cursed heavens and earth will pass into the sea of forgetfulness. What a happy thought!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Husband's Calling and Mission

I've been privileged to do pre-marriage counseling with more couples than I can remember now. There was a time when I could have told you how many weddings I've done, but the love tour has been going on for too long for me to recall! But I want to do a brief blog entry here on one thing I do remember about all of those pre-marriage counseling sessions. There is much that could be said about wives and the duties of wives, their need to respect their husbands, to be submissive, and to be an encouragement and a blessing to their lives by building them up with their words (Proverbs 14:1) and supporting them in their vocations. But I want to focus on a verse I have told every husband-to-be to have branded to their brain:

1 Peter 3:7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

Husbands are commanded by God to "dwell" or "live with" their wife "according to knowledge." The NASB translates kata gnosin as "in an understanding way." The literal translation is "according to knowledge." What this means is really quite simple: Husbands, you need to study your wife and figure her out. You need to know her and know exactly what you need to do in order to make her feel secure, loved, and happy. And men, if we do not do that, we are failures as husbands.

I'd like to make a comment now that will preclude 99.999999999% of what all men always say when they find out their wife is not happy. Are you ready? Husbands, your intentions and what you are trying to do are uniformly, utterly, and entirely irrelevant. If men (and women, and people in general) would stop saying things like: "I'm not purposefully trying to hurt you," and "I didn't mean to make you feel unloved," and "I would never try to make you feel ugly," and "It's not like a sit down and think about how I can make you feel unloved," and on and on... then, conversations regarding conflict in marriage would actually be productive. Is this point clear enough? Men? Your intentions and what you are trying to do are irrelevant to living with your wife "in an understanding way." You must live with her "according to knowledge." In other words, you need to know her really, really well. So, you have to make it your lifelong project to study her. What does she like? What does she dislike? What do you do that makes her happy? What do you do that makes her unhappy? How does she need you to love her? Most likely, it will not be what you would instinctively think.

Men, if you're thinking: "Wow, this sounds like a ton of work and I'm not sure I'm up to that. Do you mean I have to do this all the time? Like, every day, for the rest of my life while I'm married to her?" The answer is: "Yes, if you want to obey God and have a happy marriage." If you're thinking, "Then forget it, it might be good for me not to get married." And if you are thinking that and you're not yet married, good for you! Maybe you shouldn't get married. Studying and understanding your wife is not a one time thing. You never do arrive there and say, "Ok, I got it now. I have completely figured this woman out!" It doesn't work that way. Why? Because she will constantly be changing. Who she is will be changing. And you still need to keep growing in your understanding of how to love her and how to make her happy. In fact, in the Old Testament law it was required that a man take an entire year off when he got married. Listen to the profound wisdom in it:

Deuteronomy 24:5 "When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken."

That first year (and indeed every year after it) is a year of true discovery. You are growing in your knowledge of who this woman is and what she is like, and how to truly make her happy. And if you want to make her happy, you have to stop being selfish and train yourself to think like Christ - in other words, think only of others. A husband who dotes on his wife, rejoices in her, enjoys her, loves her, is sensitive to her, sacrifices his hobbies and interests to be with her, and does what she likes first and foremost will be a happy man and will have a happy life.

Marriage is a calling from God. It is a wonderful privilege and blessing. But more than this it is a calling for a man to truly embrace what it means to be Christlike. You lay your life down in a practical way every single day to love, serve, protect, cherish, and rejoice in your wife. Your wife's happiness is a measure of your own godliness and walk with Jesus Christ. What does your wife's face say regarding your walk with Christ? What does her happiness say about your love for God?

To be married is to learn the very meaning of the word: unselfish. You must become other-ish and stop being selfish. Study your wife. Figure her out. Do what she needs you to do in order to feel loved, beautiful, cherished, secure, special, and happy. Do whatever it takes for her to believe that in your eyes there is no one other than her who holds your heart. Love her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Children of God

While God is the Creator of every human life on earth, He is not a heavenly Father to every human life on earth. Being a child of God is the special right and privilege only of those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior from sin’s consequences, tyranny, and curse. Every repentant sinner whose hope of heaven rests only on Jesus is adopted into God’s family and becomes a child of God. There is no greater treasure a person can have than to know that the God of heaven and earth is their Father. God the Son added a human nature to His divine nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary two millennia ago in order to redeem all those people God the Father gave Him in eternity past. The Scriptures promise all of God’s adopted children that no matter what happens, God will never leave them or forsake them. Once a sinner is adopted by God and becomes a child of God, they will be God’s child for the rest of eternity. In the new heavens and new earth when we’ve been raised from the dead, the Scripture says, (1 John 3:2) “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” We are not only adopted into God’s family as His children, but the Lord Jesus becomes our elder brother in God’s family.

Hebrews 2:11-13 For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, [12] saying: "I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You." [13] And again: "I will put My trust in Him." And again: "Here am I and the children whom God has given Me."


Friday, December 8, 2017

God's Blessing Upon the Spiritually Bankrupt: Matthew 5:1-3

Introduction:  In the 1828 edition of the Noah Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, the word beatitude is defined as follows:  “1. Blessedness; felicity of the highest kind; consummate bliss; used of the joys of heaven.  2. The declaration of blessedness made by our Savior to particular virtues.”

It is very important before we embark on a walk through this section of the Sermon on the Mount known as “The Beatitudes” - Matthew 5:1-10 that we understand that these verses of the Word of God, from the lips of Christ are not laws.  They are not commandments.  They are the pronouncement of divine blessing upon human beings who already possess these characteristics.  Who is the blessed person?  Who is the one that the Creator pronounces to be “blessed” as opposed to “cursed?”  This is, of course, the key question facing all people.  Are we blessed or cursed of God?  Life or death?  Sheep or goat?  Wheat or tare?  Believer or unbeliever?

People of all walks of life and every level of society have asked and attempted to answer the question of: What constitutes a life that is truly blessed?  If you were to get an honest answer from every person in the Tri-Cities to this question, the answers would no doubt vary quite widely.  But I can almost guarantee you that the majority of people would not begin their answer with: “considering yourself to be absolutely nothing in the sight of God, a worthless, helpless sinner whose only hope is that God would freely choose to be merciful and gracious to you, and throwing off all confidence in your own righteousness and strength so that you would rely entirely upon the righteousness and merit of another.” 

No, the answers would likely be more like:  “Achieving all your dreams and accomplishing all your goals.”  “Having lots of friends and family that love you.”  “Making enough money to get anything and everything your heart desires.”  “Finding your soul-mate and living happily ever after.”  While we certainly would consider some of these things to be a blessing, do they characterize a life that is truly blessed in the sight of God? 

1.  Redeeming the Opportunity to Preach and Teach - v1-2
[1] And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. [2] Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
Remember:  We were just told at the tail end of Matthew 4 that multitudes “followed Him.”  Jesus redeems this opportunity to teach them. 

2.  The Blessing of Spiritual Bankruptcy - v3
[3] "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit” - it is to come to the absolute end of yourself spiritually.  It is to relinquish all of your confidence in yourself.  It is to recognize that there is no strength in yourself to change yourself.  It is to recognize that spiritually you are bankrupt.

“Blessed” - God’s divine favor - which is the great treasure and possession anyone could have.
“are” - It is a present blessing - a “right now” blessing - a declaration of the condition you are presently in. 
“the poor in spirit” - We may everything outward that looks ‘blessed’ - but inwardly we have nothing. 

Application:  We often envy people - even as Christians, we envy people for all of the wrong reasons.  There are many who are so very enviable outwardly in terms of who they are and what they possess outwardly, that we fail to consider the heart. 
Application 2:  Being “poor in spirit” does not necessarily mean outward poverty.  Nor does it mean outward wealth.  It is not referring really to anything about a person’s circumstances, or who they are in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of their fellow men.
Luke 12:15 And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."

Critical question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism:  Q 17 asks: “into what estate did the fall bring mankind?  A.  The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.”  Q 18 asks: “wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?  A.  The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature which is commonly called Original Sin, together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”  Q 19 asks, “what is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?  A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under His wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.” 

The poor in spirit are they who recognize that this is indeed their estate.

Ephes. 2:1-3  And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, [2] in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, [3] among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

Critical Question:  What is your evaluation of yourself?  If someone were to make you sit down with a pen and paper and gave you an hour to give your own honest assessment of yourself as you see yourself - how you measure up to God’s standard of holiness and law - what would you write down on that piece of paper? 

I’d like now to walk through a few narrative passages which illustrate those who are “poor in spirit” to us:

Luke 18:9-14 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: [10] "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. [11] The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. [12] I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' [13] And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' [14] I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Romans 7:14-25 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. [15] For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. [16] If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. [17] But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. [18] For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. [19] For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. [20] Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. [21] I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. [22] For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. [23] But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. [24] O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.

It is indeed very possible to think oneself to be blessed when really we are accursed.  Commenting on Psalm 32:1-2 which reads:
Psalm 32:1-2  A Psalm of David. A Contemplation. Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. [2] Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
John Calvin wrote: 
It is no wonder, therefore, that he who feels not his disease refuses the remedy. The two kinds of this guile which I have mentioned are to be particularly attended to. Few may be so hardened as not to be touched with the fear of God, and with some desire of his grace, and yet they are moved but coldly to seek forgiveness. Hence it comes to pass, that they do not yet perceive what an unspeakable happiness it is to possess God’s favor. Such was David’s case for a time, when a treacherous security stole upon him, darkened his mind, and prevented him from zealously applying himself to pursue after this happiness. Often do the saints labor under the same disease. If, therefore, we would enjoy the happiness which David here proposes to us, we must take the greatest heed lest Satan, filling our hearts with guile, deprive us of all sense of our wretchedness, in which every one who has recourse to subterfuges must necessarily pine away.

A sense of “our wretchedness” is a gift from God!  Learn to see it that way!  Notice, Calvin speaks of “Satan, filling our hearts with guile (i.e. deceit)” is the one who would seek to “deprive us of all sense of our wretchedness!” 
  It is this very sense of personal wretchedness before God that makes the broken sinner long all the more for the the Lord Jesus Christ - that we might find our safety and salvation solely in His righteousness (not ours since we have none) and in His cross (since we could never even begin to repay to God the debt we owe Him for our sins!).
coming to grips with and embracing the fact that we are spiritually poor - no matter how much we have outwardly - is absolutely foundational to what a blessed life truly is!

Application:  Is this sense of personal wretchedness what we admire in others?!  Probably not.  We envy fame, popularity, wealth, prestige - but do we long for a greater sense of our own spiritual bankruptcy? 
Jesus shocks His hearers and the world - this is the first “beatitude” - the first description of a person’s life that has the pronouncement of divine blessing and approval upon it - the person who surveys themselves and can only see wreckage, sin, hopelessness, doubt, helplessness, and poverty

The classic biblical example of a group of professing Christians who entirely missed this point was the church in Laodicea:
Rev. 3:16-17 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. [17] Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked--
Therefore, what is our assessment of ourselves?  “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked?”  Is that what we see in the mirror?  It is only if we do that we are said to be blessed!

And then to the church in Smyrna, Jesus said just the opposite:  Rev. 2:9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)...”

Luke 7:36-50
    Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. [37] And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, [38] and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. [39] Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner." [40] And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it." [41] "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. [42] And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" [43] Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged." [44] Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. [45] You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. [46] You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. [47] Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little." [48] Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." [49] And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" [50] Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Closing Illustration:
In a wonderful video documenting the incredible missionary story of the tribal people called the Taliabo in Papua New Guinea, they told the story of an elderly woman who lived on the outskirts of the Taliabo village who had leprosy.  She had a boy from the village write down a letter she dictated to him for the missionaries when they came.  She was unable to write because all 10 of her fingers had fallen off because of the leprosy.  Her letter to the missionaries is stirring.  She wrote:
How this world was formed in the beginning we do not know.  Who is it that planted this food for us, that when we eat of it we still die?  We live with too much grief.  We wait for you to explain to us the story of this world.  We do not know why we live.  We do not know why we die.  Why are we so cursed?  Quickly, remove our stupidity.

Later in the documentary, they were able to bring this woman along to hear the extensive teaching of the missionaries over a period of months.  She commented about their teaching when she heard it:
When I heard that God created the whole world, that He created Adam and Eve.  My mind opened.  Now I knew that God created us - I was happy to think of it.  I learned that God knows everything.  God’s eyes and ears are not like our.  They see to the ends of the earth and He hears the very thoughts of our hearts.  This made me nervous.

When the missionaries explained the gospel and called the people of the Taliabo tribe to repentance, this leprous woman believed that message and was baptized.  Her comments from the documentary are worth hearing:
When it comes to the things of this world, I have nothing.  Possessions?  I just don’t want them. The Lord Jesus has already given me eternal riches.  Do you see these ruined hands?  Now I’m not concerned with this body of mine.  Not like I used to be.  God has healed me.  He has healed me inside.  If I die tonight, you can bury this old body in the earth, but my soul will go to God’s dwelling place.  …  My hope is in God.  He has given me life. 

These are the words of a life that is truly blessed.  Outwardly?  Not so much.  Just as Paul described his life as a minister and Christian:

2 Cor. 6:9-10 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; [10] as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

In Defense of Justification by Faith Alone - Part 3 - James 2 In Its Own Context


1.     Introduction – the Imaginary False Teacher

Introduction:  Let’s say you one day had the opportunity to be a witness for the gospel to someone and you seize that opportunity.  After you’ve shared the gospel and spoke clearly and plainly about what it means to be saved by faith alone in Christ alone, even mentioning the marvelous doctrine of the forensic, legal justification of the sinner before God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and cross-work to their account, you then hear something like the following in response…  How would you answer this?

Respondent:  Well, I certainly believe that we need the grace of God and need Jesus Christ to be saved, but the Bible very clearly denies what you are saying.  We must have works in order to be saved.  Jesus told a very important parable in Matthew 18 about a man who owed his master ten thousand talents – an unimaginable sum of money.  When this man was unable to pay off his debt, he begged for mercy and the master forgave him the entire debt.  But when this man had a servant who owed him a much smaller amount and refused to forgive him, the master reinstituted the man’s debt.  The passage even says: Matthew 18:34-35 “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. [35] So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."  Not only this, but you spoke so much about the idea of justification by “faith alone,” as being what the Bible teaches, and yet none of the passages you cited use that phrase “faith alone.”  Did you know that the only place “faith alone” is actually used in the Bible is in James 2:24 – and in this passage, your doctrine of justification is explicitly rejected by the God-inspired Scriptures: James 2:20 “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:24 “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”  How can you believe in justification by faith alone when the only place that phrase is used in the entire Bible is James 2:24 where it is explicitly denied?

How would you answer this?

Application – to teach your children, grandchildren, and all future generations:  If the first place in the Bible a person goes to describe their understanding of how a person can be saved or justified before God is a parable or James 2, you are talking to a heretic

Why?  Several reasons:  1) Because the book of James is wisdom literature speaking to Christians about living the Christian life, not an exposition of the doctrine of justification. 2) It is a very common error of beginning Bible students to assign a certain meaning to a word and then assume it means the same thing everywhere it is used. 3) Parables are a specific genre of literature which are intended to communicate one primary meaning. The details of parables are not supposed to have mountains of theology extracted from them. To do so misses the entire point of the parable itself and of the genre of parable as well.

In this blog post we will walk through a very important and beautiful passage of Scripture, James 2:14-26, which we must understand well so we are not misled by the frequent misuse of this passage to deny the gospel of Jesus Christ.


2.     "All other Saving Graces"

The Westminster Confession of faith makes a critical point in its chapter on justification, the 2nd point:  “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification;1 yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”

What does that mean: “yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces?”  Saving faith in Jesus Christ and repentance unto life are both gifts of Christ to His elect.  Both are secured by the cross-work of Jesus.  We must never think of the work of Christ on the cross as entirely separated from His intercessory work for us in heaven.  The very same group Christ died for, He also intercedes for. And Jesus Christ gave Himself on the cross only for His elect people, and He intercedes only for those for whom He died.  This is the express teaching of the Word of God.  Consider this passage:

Romans 8:29-34 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. [30] Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. [31] What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? [33] Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

When a person “comes” to Christ, it is because they have been drawn by the Father because that individual’s salvation was entrusted to Christ before the foundation of the world. To “come” to Christ is to believe on him – i.e. to be justified by faith.  Consider these very simple and clear passages:

John 6:37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

What does it mean to “come” to Jesus?  It means to believe on him for one’s justification.  The rest of that passage in John 6 bears this out explicitly:

John 6:64-65 “But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. [65] And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."
ð  Do you see how “coming to Me” is identical to “believing” on Him?

John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

Application:  This effectual drawing of the sinner to Christ is also a drawing away from sin.  Repentance and saving faith in Christ are blood-purchased gifts of Christ for his elect people – and for them alone. 

Acts 11:18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life."
Acts 13:48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Acts 16:14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

Therefore, as Jesus taught and as the rest of Scripture bears out explicitly, Jesus Christ came into the world with an express mission to save individuals who were elected individually, by name, from all eternity.  Part of Jesus’ work includes to secure and insure that they will repent and believe in (or “come to”) Him in time and space at God’s appointed time.  When the gospel of preached and the commands “repent and believe the gospel of Christ” are issues, all who are appointed to eternal life will believe

This is a critical point because so much of American evangelicalism today looks at the work of Christ on the cross as if it is an impersonal, generic, provisory work which men, if they are so inclined through common grace, may or may not avail themselves of by an independent act of their free-will – thus, in effect, saving themselves. This completely depersonalizes the doctrine of election and destroys the central doctrine of the invisible church – i.e. that God has an elect people whose salvation He has entrusted to His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Application 2:  Another reason this is so foundational is the fact that God has predestined not only that we would repent, believe, and be justified before God, but that He would also, as the Scriptures tell us: purify for Himself a people who are zealous for good works.  Listen carefully to this passage – and how it connects explicitly the cross-work of Christ to the making of people zealous for good works:

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, [12] teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, [13] looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, [14] who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

Application:  Saving Faith and Repentance are blood-purchased gifts of Christ to the elect.  And just as Jesus Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed” (justification), Christ also gave Himself on the cross to: “purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

Critical question about faith:  Faith in Jesus is believing the gospel – assenting to its truth and having the person and work of Christ as one’s only hope.  But the mental act of faith itself – can it be seen?  No. 

The phenomenon of “false brethren.”  In Galatians 2:4, Paul makes reference to a group of men in the Galatian churches he identifies as “false brethren.”  Jesus spoke about the church being occupied by both wheat and tares.  There will always be people in Christian churches who profess to have faith in Christ, but in reality they do not. 

How can we tell the difference?  Matthew 7:20 “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”  Notice, it is not by what they say, but by their fruits that we will know them.  There are very clear characteristics that are always found among God’s truly redeemed, elect people.  In this passage here in James 2, we have a very clear reminder that a person’s claim to have faith in Christ is not justified by faith alone, but by their works. 


3.     Dead Faith vs. Living Faith – v14-19

[14] What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
Point:  This opening verse is the key to the whole passage.  It is critical that we consider verses 14 through 26 as a whole unit.  Notice closely v14: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” 
Application:  What this entire passage is going to address fully is how a person can be “justified” in “saying he has faith.”  The fact is, anyone can “say” they have faith. But such a profession, if it is not also accompanied by all of the other marks of God’s saving mercy – i.e. repentance and a zeal for good works and holiness – then that “faith” they claim to have is “dead.” 
Application 2:  This should stand as a challenge to us all in this room. Many of us have heard the gospel hundreds of thousands of times in our lives – and most of us claim to have faith in Christ. The passage asks the question about a profession of faith that is not accompanied by works: “Can faith save him?”  Grammatically, this could be translated as: “Can that kind of faith save him?”  The point is that only those whose lives have been obviously, clearly, visibly changed by the grace of regeneration have the right to be justified in claiming to have faith in Christ. 
Point 2: The faith of some people exists only in words. Such is a clear indication that they are hypocrites who have deceived themselves. No one is or could ever be justified by works. Justification is by faith alone, but all those who are justified are also made alive in Christ and are sanctified. The cross-death of Jesus makes of right with God (justification) once for all via that beautiful judicial declaration, but as we saw in Titus 2:14, Christ also “gave himself for us” to “purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works.” There is no such thing as a Christian – justified by faith alone – who is not also in their personal and church-life zealous for good works.

[15] If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, [16] and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
Illustration:  How many of you have ever been told by someone who consistently treated you terribly: “I love you.”?  Did that profession of love mean anything to you? How many of you have ever been assured by someone who has consistently shown no care or concern for you and in fact has never been anything but rude and nasty to you that “deep down, they really love you.”? Did that assurance meaning anything to you either?
Point: It is important that we understand fully the implications to the 9th commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This commandment requires us to always tell the truth – to tell the whole truth, and not to mislead, equivocate, exaggerate, lie, etc.
Application: Do you see the absurdity of the illustration provided here in the Word of God? If we see a Christian brother or sister naked and starving, does it accomplish anything to bid them: “be warm and filled!”? Notice the application James makes in the very next verse:

[17] Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Application:  The teaching point here is simple:  It is impossible for a truly, God-granted, grace-effected faith in the Lord Jesus to be “by itself” in the person to whom it is given by God. That person, by the very same cross that achieved his or her justification before God, is now zealous for good works! And if they are not, their claim to have faith in Christ is, just like their soul, “dead.”

[18] But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Point: There are a couple of issues with v18 in terms of where exactly you should stop and start the quotation. Should it be only the phrase “you have faith, and I have works,” or should it be more like: “’you have faith,’ and I will respond with, ‘I have works,’” or does the quotation extend all the way to the end of the verse.  It is a bit hard to tell since Greek does not have quotation marks. However, the basic meaning is the same regardless.
Notice the all-important phrase: “show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”  That is the key to the text. The point is clear: Faith is invisible – it can’t be seen in and of itself as it is mental assent to and trust in the gospel of Christ. But the true believer’s faith can figuratively be “seen” by his or her works.

This only makes sense within a Calvinistic, Reformed, Biblical view of salvation:  There is an odd false gospel that has come up in the last few decades that excludes repentance and the fruits of the new birth from being part of God’s redeeming work in the life of the sinner. These things are, from that perspective, “optional.” As long as someone makes a “decision for Christ” at some point in their life, they are saved and going to heaven. In Arminian and free-will based perspectives, such a position makes perfect sense. After all, getting saved is grounded upon an independent act of faith on the sinner’s part. It would seem to follow logically that whether or not you want to really follow Christ would be just as optional as “getting saved” was. But in the biblical view, “walking the walk” is always just as much a part of what God does in the sinner’s life as is saving faith in Christ. Since saving faith, repentance, and sanctification are all the fruits of God’s effectual grace and always come as a package deal in a sinner’s life when that person is effectually called and united to Christ through the gospel, it follows that we can say, with James, v17: “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Why? Because a profession of faith that is “by itself,” i.e. it is not accompanied by all other saving graces, is not a faith granted by God’s grace to that sinner.  

Remember the Westminster Confession 11.2:
“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”

Thus, it is Calvinists and Reformed Christians alone who can tell people with confidence that if they do not walk the walk, they have no reason to believe their faith in Christ is real.  And please remember this – I hope you will write this down:
“Justification by a faith that works, is not the same as justification by faith and works.” 

R. C. Sproul’s mentor, John Gerstner used these three formulas:
Ø  Error #1, Roman Catholicism: “Faith + works = justification”
Ø  Error #2, Non-Lordship, Arminianism, antinomian: “Faith – works = justification”
Ø  Truth: “Faith = justification + works”

[19] You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble!
Point:  Here we have the example of the person whose theology is correct – they understand the truth and are not heretics. The affirmation of monotheism “you believe that there is one God” was a strong indication that one was a believer because most of man’s religions at the time were forms of polytheism.

Dr. James White’s comments are helpful here:  “From this we can gather a vital element of James’s polemic: the confession of dead, empty faith that he is attacking, which he plainly says cannot bring salvation, is not to be condemned for its error as to orthodoxy, but is condemned for its abnormality in lacking deeds as evidence of its vitality. That is, a dead faith can speak the right words without being a true and living faith. Dead orthodoxy is just as much a danger in James’s thinking as living heresy is for Paul. Both extremes have constantly plagued the church throughout history.”

Think of Mormonism – there you have “living heresy.” Those people’s zeal for falsehood knows no bounds. They knock on doors and shamelessly proclaim a false Jesus, a false god, and a false gospel.

Think now of “dead orthodoxy,” say a Reformed and Presbyterian congregation where the theology is down pat, every “I” dotted and every “T” crossed, but there is no zeal to speak the gospel to anyone, little interest in discipling the next generation, sporadic church attendance, no vision to see the kingdom of God advance, and a sad indifference to the suffering of those around them. “Dead orthodoxy and living heresy” are both a danger.


4.     Abraham’s Claim to have Faith was Justified by His Works – v20-26

[20] But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Point:  The force of this rhetorical question is this: Do you want evidence that faith without works is dead? James is going to give that evidence in what follows.  James is going to give two examples of individuals whose claim to have faith was justified by their works:

Example #1. Abraham:
[21] Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
Point: The key point to remember here is that this verse does not exist in a vacuum in outer-space all by itself. Now, if it is read all by itself and put up against Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans 4 we looked at last week, it looks like a contradiction:
Romans 4:2-3 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. [3] For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
Point 2: James 2:21says that Abraham was indeed justified by works. The question is: “justified with regard to what?” Justified forensically before the law of God? No, remember the opening verse of this passage:
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
ð  This passage is about the justification of a man in saying he has faith.  How is that claim to having faith “justified?” Well, it can only be justified by works. Thus, Abraham was justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar
ð  Paul in Romans 4:2-3 – by Paul’s own explicit testimony is talking about justification “before God.”

[22] Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
Point:  It is critical to notice in this text that faith was working together with Abraham’s works and that by works faith was made perfect, or “brought to completion.”  Notice that it does not say, “faith was working together with Abraham’s words and by works justification was made perfect” or “completed.”
Dr. White says: “The perfection of faith by the deeds did not change the faith, but showed that it was real faith, not just said, but actual; a matter of the heart, not just the mind.”

[23] And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God.
Point:  Here, James cites the very same passage we saw as the foundation for Paul’s entire discussion of justification via the imputed righteousness of Christ. But James cites is for a completely different reason. You see, the offering of Isaac upon the altar was many years after Genesis 15. By his willingness to offer Isaac at God’s command, the genuineness or “fulfillment” of what is recorded in Genesis 15:6 is shown. Abraham really did believe God in Genesis 15:6? How can we “see” this? By the fact that he offered Isaac when God commanded him to… IOW, by Abraham’s works. Remember, that’s the entire point of the passage – how is a claim to have faith “justified?” Since faith in and of itself is invisible, “saying you have faith” can only be justified by your works. In this case, Abraham’s belief in God was shown to be living and not dead because of his works

[24] You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Point: Very clearly, a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. But justified in what way?  Again, go back to the open topic sentence of the paragraph:
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
In that context a man is justified in “saying he has faith” only by his works. 
Application: This passage has nothing whatsoever to do with describing how sinners are forensically justified before the law of God, but rather only with how a man’s claim to have faith is justified in the eyes of other men. 

Example #2. Rahab the harlot:
[25] Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
Point:  Paul cites another example where a profession of faith was justified by the words done. Rahab was a prostitute. Clearly, God does not forensically, legally justify prostitutes for hiding spies. This passage is about the demonstration of the reality of true faith in the one true and living God. 

[26] For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Point: This final conclusion is quite vivid. A human body without its soul or spirit is “dead.” Notice how well this verse bookends the entire passages: James 2:14-26. Listen to the first and last verses read side by side:
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Consider the illustration carefully:  Body and soul were created by God to be inseparably joined for eternity. And this is indeed the Christian’s hope – the resurrection of the body and the rejoining of our souls to our bodies forever. Their separation at death is unnatural. It is as unnatural and abnormal and out of place as a professing Christian who lives like the unbelieving world all around them and has no zeal for good works.

The historical debate with Romanism has clouded the importance of this passage at times, and sadly many Protestants have shied away from it.  Contextually, it is not difficult to understand or interpret – as long as you walk through it slowly, let it define its own terms, and let it speak for itself.

Final application: We live in an era of church history when this passage is probably more needed than ever.  American Christianity has been overrun with Arminianism and other forms of free-will theology that categorically deny the biblical doctrine of unconditional election.  The proponents of these views have led millions of people to believe that by making a decision or praying a magic prayer that they actually have the power in themselves to make themselves Christians. Repentance, discipleship, following Christ, being zealous for good works, loving the brethren – all of these are just optional for super-spiritual Christians. Some people just want their ticket punched for heaven while others get a little more excited than others and want to go further. Evidently, God will take whatever you are willing to give him and be happy with it. This lie has, I fear, damned millions of people in this country. True faith in Jesus Christ if it is not accompanied by works is dead being by itself!  Justification is by faith alone – our salvation is accomplished and secured perfectly by Jesus Christ bearing our sins on Calvary’s cross and via His imputed righteousness to out accounts, but that true faith in Jesus (which is itself a gift of God to His elect) is also accompanied by “all other saving graces” – namely, repentance unto life, adoption, sanctification, a love for the brethren, a hunger for the word of God, a brokenness over sin and longing to overcome it, a longing for worship, and a joy in discipleship – a joy in following Jesus Christ, a hunger for the Word of God, etc.

James 2:18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

It is so very easy to say: “I have faith in Jesus Christ.” But can people “see” your faith by the life you live? Can God see your faith by the live you live? Would God say to you as He said to Abraham after he raised the knife to slay Isaac, “Now I know that you fear God!” Would God see your tears for the lost, your burden to love your spouse, your burden and love for your local church, your love for the brethren, your sorrow over your sin, your love for His holy Word, your desire to cut off all known sin in your life and say, “Now I know that you believe in my Son!” What does your life say? If people could watch a video of 1 whole week of your life, would they see your faith in Jesus by your actions? 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

In Defense of Justification by Faith Alone - Part 2

The great R. C. Sproul wrote a little children’s book called The Priest with Dirty Clothes in which a young man is given a beautiful garment to wear which he will one day have on to preach a sermon to the king.  He is told that if he ever gets that garment dirty that it cannot be made clean.  No launderer can get the dirt off, no amount of scrubbing could make it like new again, etc. If it gets dirty, it will stay dirty no matter what the priest does – and yet, he will still have to appear before the king to preach his sermon. While riding on horseback one day with his fresh, beautiful garment on, the young priest falls off his horse into a pit of mud. When he stands up and looks at himself, his garment is completely ruined. He is terrified and heartbroken that he will now have to appear before the king this way. But he remembers well that there is nothing he or anyone else can do to cleanse his once beautiful garment. When he appears before the king, there is an evil wizard named Malice who stands up and accuses him before the king. But then the king’s son, clothes in a beautiful garment of his own, stands up, walks over to the young priest and takes his dirty garments off. The king’s son proceeds to take his perfect white garment off.  The king’s son then puts the young priest’s filthy garments on himself and puts his perfect white garment on the priest. 

The scene is taking from the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah. Hear his words:
Zech. 3:1-5 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. [2] And the Lord said to Satan, "The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?" [3] Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. [4] Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, "Take away the filthy garments from him." And to him He said, "See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes." [5] And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of the Lord stood by.
Application 2:  There is always much to be learned, studied, and applied from the Word of God to our lives. But there is this one foundational truth that stands at the center of Christianity – the justification of the sinner before the holy God. Get this truth wrong, and it doesn’t matter what else you get right – you are not a Christian.

In his introduction to James Buchanan’s work The Doctrine of Justification, J.I. Packer wrote:
Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae – the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing of 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. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue with her [i.e. Catholicism’s] ranks.

The Great Dr. James R. White in his magnificent book The God Who Justifies wrote this wonderful analysis of what Packer also referred to:
What happens when the doctrine of justification is ignored or downplayed? Here again the modern disinterest in matters historical rears its head, for history gives clear answer to this question. One need only look to the Roman Catholic system in the year 1517 to see what happens when the gospel itself, as expressed in Paul’s clear and unambiguous doctrine of justification by faith, is smothered under layer after layer of tradition and error. People are enslaved to a system of penances and works, and the blessed peace that God promised to the believer is nowhere to be found.  Nothing has changed over time. Today the very same question of justification must be dealt with. To ignore it is not an option, for even to attempt to do so is in itself a decision against the biblical position. The guiding principles of the Reformation are again under attack, and the de-protestantization of Protestantism continues at a fast pace. Many today are honestly asking the question “Why should there be a split in the church? Why not go back to Rome?” And many are doing just that, for the “Protestant” denominations in which they find themselves are no longer truly Protestant – that is, they have jettisoned sola scriptura, and it is sure that justification by faith will inevitably follow behind.

It is my most earnest desire that the reason you are a Presbyterian Protestant would never be merely an issue of taste, style, or the architecture of the building. I truly hope that you would never choose your church based upon the style of worship music they use. The church you desire to be a member of must be chosen for its doctrine and its practice – do they affirm and teach the biblical gospel – the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone? And do they practice sola scriptura in the way they worship God and do ministry? Those are the things you are looking for. Music style – if it is what you really like – must be seen only as icing on the cake. It cannot, it must not be what determines where you worship.

The centerpiece of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the justification of sinners before the holy tribunal of God Almighty. It is this question that Christ came to answer definitively and finally by His person and His work. He came to destroy the great enemy of mankind: death and the eternal condemnation that is ours because of sin. Our problem is universal and none are exempt. Every mouth is shut before the law of God. No excuses are allowed, no special pleading, no arguments will be allowed, no defenses will be made. This is the problem of every man. We’ve fallen off our horse into a pit of mire and now our garments are permanently ruined. All fingers point directly at us, and the arrows of God’s vengeance are aimed directly at our hearts, ready to be released in all their just, holy, and furious terror – to destroy those who love not God and love not His Son, Jesus Christ – to bring down the arrogance and wickedness of those who yawn their indifference to violating the holy laws of their Creator. Because this is our condition, the issue of how such people could ever find themselves “pronounced righteous” before God is, in the final analysis of life, the only question that really matters. The following God-breathed words echo across the ages to sweep away the tired cobwebs of the spiritually indifferent, the foolish, the self-righteous, the ignorant, the erring, and the wicked:
2 Peter 3:7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

1.  What is Justification by Faith? 
2.  Justified: The Bible's Meaning
3.  The Foundational Nature of Genesis 15:6 to Justification by Faith

1.  What is Justification by Faith? 
James White wrote (p63): “Men have died for it. They have suffered the loss of family and friends, possessions and position. It has divided husbands and wives, parents and children. Yet, almost ironically, it is called the “good news,” the gospel. It is good news to those who believe the bad news about their sin and who desire, by God’s grace, to be at peace with Him; for everyone else, it is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18ff.). The apostle Paul boldly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16).
Point:  Central to the gospel is the doctrine of justification. In fact, the apostle Paul in the book of Galatians clearly taught us that a simple error on the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “another gospel which is really no gospel at all.”
Galatians 1:6-9 [6] I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, [7] which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
Application:  This is arguably the strongest condemnation of error in the entire New Testament. The phrase “let him be accursed” is as strong as it could be. The person who does not teach that justification is by faith alone is to be considered accursed – that is, going to hell.  That person is damnable in the sight of God.
Leon Morris commenting on this verse wrote: “Denunciation of error is an index of devotion to the truth. He who cannot curse cannot bless, either. Only the person who has a firm grasp of the truth can discern what is erroneous.”  I would add that the strength of a person’s convictions can be measured directly by how forcefully they denounce error. 

Justification Defined:  While it would certainly be marvelous and helpful to work all the way through the Westminster Confession of Faith’s 6 points under the heading of “Justification,” for our purposes, the first point by itself gives a very helpful, biblical summary of this great doctrine:
WCF 11.1: Those whom God effectually calleth He also freely justifieth;1 not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone: nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience, to them as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness, by faith: which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.

You can tell right away that the framers of the confession are trying to be as clear as possible. You know this because they not only define the doctrine positively, they also use the word “NOT” frequently. Why do they do this? So that no misunderstandings are possible.

Justification positively is accomplished for the sinner by God: “pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous.” Justification has two facets – primarily because our problem is 2-fold:

1)      “by pardoning their sins” – transgressions of the law must be punished by God. There is no way around this. God is able to pardon our sins because the punishment for them was nailed to the cross in the body of Christ and their debt was remitted through the blood He shed as our substitute.

2)      “by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous” – not only have I disobeyed the law and brought its curse on my head, I have also failed positively to produce obedience to the law of God. This is my second problem. I have sinned against the law and thus the sanctions of that law must be met, but I also must somehow be seen as righteous in the sight of the Holy God if I am to survive and pass the judgment of God. God does this by “accounting and accepting my person as righteous” in His sight.

Now, notice what it denies:

1)      “not by infusing righteousness into them” – This was Rome’s position – namely, that justification was a progressive moral change in us – rather than an instantaneous judicial change in our status before God’s law.

2)      “not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone.”  The pardon of my sins and the acceptance of my person as righteous in the sight of God is not on the grounds of anything “wrought in” me – namely, anything I do with the help of God. Nor is it anything I do of myself. But for Christ’s sake alone.

3)      “nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience, to them as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.” God has not simply decided to accept our faith in the place of righteousness or anything like that. Nothing we do – neither our faith, nor our repentance, nor our good works, etc. is the grounds upon which God declares us to be justified before Him. RATHER, we are justified by the imputation to us of Christ’s obedience and satisfaction (i.e. his cross-death) unto us. We receive and rest on Him and His righteousness by faith – and even that faith is not from us, it too is the gift of God.

B.B. Warfield wrote about faith in Christ: “It is never on account of its formal nature as a psychic act that faith is conceived in Scripture to be saving. It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or nature of faith, but in the object of faith.”

Absolutely critical to a right understanding of justification is an accompanying right understanding of the biblical doctrine of sanctification. 

WSC Q35  What is sanctification? A. Sanctification is the work of God's free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

WLC Q77  Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the
righteousness of Christ, in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into
condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.

Justification is a one-time, instantaneous, once-for-all act on the part of God as judge in which we are In justification we are “declared righteous.”  Sanctification is an ongoing process and work of God’s free grace in which we are “made righteous.”  In justification we are “declared righteous.”  In sanctification we are “made righteous.”  That is the way the Bible teaches these great truths. 

Roman Catholicism, since the time of the Protestant Reformation, has made its living by confusing and mixing these two things: justification and sanctification.  Listen to the official Roman Catholic definition of justification from chapter 7 of the sixth session of the Counter Reformation Council of Trent (1546-1564): “… justification … is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend…”  I hope you hear that.  To Rome, justification IS sanctification – they are identical.  Justification in Roman Catholicism is a process “whereby an unjust man becomes just.”  The Word of God teaches, on the contrary, that justification is a judicial act whereby an unjust man is declared just because of his union with Christ by faith and because of the righteousness and satisfaction of Christ imputed to them.  This is all the difference in the world.  The Bible has the sinner looking to Christ alone for his salvation, and Rome has the sinner looking to his own inherent righteousness for his salvation.

I hope that is a helpful summary to you of the full biblical doctrine of justification.  Justification is a legal, judicial act on the part of God toward us, on account of the work of Jesus, whereby he does not change us morally or inwardly, but merely issues the verdict that our status before His Holy Law and judgment seat has been finally and forever changed from “guilty and condemned” to “innocent and justified.”  Justification does not bring about a subjecting change in us of any kind whatsoever.  Justification changes only our status before the law of God and in the sight of God. 

2.  Justified: The Bible's Meaning
Justification in the Old Testament.  It is critical for us to bear in mind that to the early church prior to the writing of the New Testament, the Old Testament was the only “Bible” they had. The way in which it uses the Hebrew terms for “righteousness” and “justification” are very important to our understanding of how the New Testament sets forth the doctrine of the justification of sinners after the coming of Christ.

Let us consider the concept of being “justified” in several important passages in the Old Testament where the verb “to justify” in Hebrew: tsatheq is used:
ð  Exodus 23:7 Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked.
Point:  This passage is speaking of the trials of criminals under Israeli civil law.  The wicked – i.e. those who are actually guilty of breaking the civil laws of Israel, God will not “justify.”  This is a very clear judicial, legal use of the Hebrew word “to justify.” Notice, it involves no subjective change in the person being tried. When their verdict is pronounced, that verdict does not change them internally, morally, or subjectively in any way. It merely declares their status. When it comes to violations of civil penalties, God will not justify the wicked.

Deut. 25:1 "If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked,
Point:  Here again, when the judge in a court setting pronounces his judgment upon the disputants, the verdict does not change the people being judged internally, morally, or subjectively at all. The judge merely makes a pronouncement regarding their status.
Illustration:  In the mid 90s the “trial of the century” was the trial of O.J. Simpson for a double homicide. For a long time the attorneys made their case and their defense. When it was all done, the jury examined the evidence and came back with the verdict which was then pronounced by the judge: “not guilty.” Was O.J. Simpson in any way changed internally, morally, or subjectively by the pronouncement of that legal judgment? No.

There are other passages in the OT that use the term “to justify” in the same way, but James White wrote the following helpful summary of them (p.79):  “Why is all of this important? Because the doctrine of justification by faith says justification is something God does based upon the work of Christ: it is a forensic declaration, not something that involves a subjective change of the believer. Justification is about our status, while sanctification is about the work of God whereby we are changed and conformed to His image. Confusing the two utterly undoes the glorious nature of justification.”

We will look much more extensively at Paul’s use the term: “to justify” in the New Testament in up-coming sermons, but I hope it is clear to you that justification in the Bible – when it is used in legal contexts – refers to the pronouncement of a person’s status before the law and before a judge.  In the great New Testament doctrine of the justification of the sinner, not in the eyes of a civil and earthly court, but before the Holy and Righteous Judge, God and Creator, the concept of justification is used in exactly the same sense as it is in these passages from the Old Testament. The justification of sinners is a judicial concept that brings about full and perfect salvation via the imputation of the death of Christ and the righteousness of Christ to us – as the satisfaction for our sins and our righteousness in the sight of God, the Judge.  And it is because of this and this alone that our salvation is certain and it is something we can know that we possess fully and perfectly. 

Did you know that in Roman Catholic theology, believing with certainty that you are justified and have eternal life is called “The Sin of Presumption.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia defines the sin of presumption as follows: “It may be defined as the condition of a soul that, because of a badly regulated reliance on God’s mercy and power, hopes for salvation without doing anything to deserve it…”

The Council of Trent pronounced the following “anathemas” (borrowing from Paul in Galatians 1:8-9) upon certain beliefs which leave no doubt regarding what they believe, and what their stance is toward us – just remember “anathema” means: “damned to hell for eternity”:

Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone…, let him be anathema.
Canon 11. If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the righteousness of Christ or by the sole remission of sins,… let him be anathema.
Canon 12. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.
Canon 16. If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema.
Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.
Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.
Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ…does not truly merit an increase of grace and eternal life… let him be anathema.

Why do they pronounce all of these anathemas upon the gospel of Jesus Christ and the biblical doctrine of justification?  Because they do not understand or believe that justification in the Bible is a legal, judicial, forensic declaration about a person’s status before the law when it is used in that context, and not a subjective change in the sinner himself. The subjective change in the sinner comes from regeneration and the process of sanctification.

3.  The Foundational Nature of Genesis 15:6 to Justification by Faith
Point: Rather than try to fully exposit this passage and its significance to the New Testament’s doctrine of justification, I’d like to encourage you to look at it yourself this week – and notice the New Testament passages that cite it directly in the context of speaking of the justification of the sinner before God.  There are 3 texts (and their surrounding contexts are vital as well): Romans 4:9, Romans 4:22, and Galatians 3:6.  It is also cited in James 2:23 but James 2:14-26 is going to get its own sermon since it is not talking about the justification of sinners before God, but is commonly misused by proponents of works-righteousness and false gospels. 


In closing:  Remember the priest with dirty clothes illustration? In some ways, an analogy to being physically dirty or having dirty clothes just can’t capture the real issue before us. There is no analogy that can really show the true nature of the danger we are in as sinners. We can only look to what it cost to bring about justification to us. God is not able merely to issue forth that verdict: “justified” – sin must be paid for, righteousness much be present.  Enter, Jesus Christ.  We will conclude with His own glorious statement of the purpose of His coming into the world:  John 6:37-39 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. [39] This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”