Proclaiming the Good News of the forgiveness
of sin and eternal life to all repentant sinners
by God's unmerited "grace alone" through
"faith alone" in the sinless life and atoning death of the Lord Jesus "Christ alone".
Finishing the Protestant Reformation
Justification by Faith and "The Mark of the Beast"
Part 1: Justification by Faith — the Key to Biblical Clarity
Is the Bible clear and easy to understand? Has the proliferation of divisions within the Protestant movement proved that the Reformers were too optimistic in affirming the clarity of the Bible? If it is clear, why are so many professed Christians so incredibly ignorant of the Bible?
When the Reformers contended that the Bible is clear and easy to understand, they did not mean that it is comprehensively clear. Obviously, there are difficulties and mysteries about certain parts of the Bible that may never become clear in this life. Neither did the Reformers close their eyes to the fact that men of scholarship and mental acumen had failed to understand the Bible. But what they did mean was that the Bible is essentially clear when seen in the light of the great Reformation doctrine of justification by faith.
The formal principle of the Reformation (the Bible alone) and the material principle of the Reformation (justification by faith in Christ alone) stand together. If one is lost, so is the other. Said Luther:
If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time. . . . it alone makes a person a theologian. . . . For with it comes the Holy Spirit, who enlightens the heart by it and keeps it in the true certain understanding so that it is able precisely and plainly to distinguish and judge all other articles of faith, and forcefully to sustain them. - What Luther Says, ed. E. Pass (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), Vol.2, pp. 702-714, 715-718.
If these statements by Luther are correct—and we believe they are—this means that there is one great reason why the Bible is not clear in today's church. We have lost sight of the truth of justification by faith! Let this central biblical message be restored to its right place, and the Bible will become essentially clear. (Continued)
Imputed Righteousness: The Rock of Offense
But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. —Rom. 4:5.
Christianity is absolutely unique in that it proclaims the gospel of the God who justifies the ungodly. Many from within the church have tried to soften the blow of this scripture and to take away its force.
It was the Reformation which revived the Pauline message of God's grace—a grace which accepts the unacceptable. All Christians believe that Christ died for the ungodly. But many will not accept that God justifies—declares righteous at His tribunal—the man who in himself is not righteous but full of all sin.
Of course, this raises the question of the righteousness of God's verdict. After all, did not God instruct the judges of Israel that they should justify only the righteous and condemn the wicked? (Deut. 25:1). How is it that a Judge who is supremely just can justify the ungodly?
Paul's answer is in the doctrine of imputed righteousness. While it is true that the believer is every whit a sinner in himself—and will in this life continue to fall short of God's glory (Rom. 3:23)—God imputes to him the righteousness of Jesus. It is on this basis that God can declare him righteous and treat him as if he were actually righteous.
The Reformers did not hesitate to talk about this "as if" element of the divine jurisprudence. The doctrine of Christ's substitutionary work demands it. (He was treated as if He were a sinner.) The doctrine of imputed righteousness demands it. (The sinner is treated as if he were the One who lived that sinless life and died on the cross.) Listen to how boldly Luther and Calvin affirmed this "as if."
Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say: "Mine are Christ's living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did." — Luther's Works , American ed. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press; St. Louis: Concordia, 1955 - ), Vol.31, p.297.
This is the inevitable confession of a man who believes in substitution and imputation.
For if righteousness consists in the observance of the law, who will deny that Christ merited favor for us when, by taking that burden upon himself, he reconciled us to God as if all had kept the law.— Institutes , Bk. 2, chap. 17, sec. 5.
We define justification as follows: the sinner received into communion with Christ, is reconciled to God by his grace. While cleansed by Christ's blood, he obtains forgiveness of sins, and clothed with Christ's righteousness as if it were his own he stands confident before the heavenly judgment seat. — Ibid ., Bk. 3, chap. 17, sec. 8.
The "as if" is the inevitable result of believing in the gospel of salvation by substitution and imputation.
Rome fought this concept bitterly. She maintained that God could not declare a man to be righteous unless he was personally righteous; otherwise God would appear to be a liar. 7 From that day to this, Roman Catholic scholars—whether Bellarmine, Newman or Hans Kung—will not accept what even Kung caricatures as "a pasted on 'as if' righteousness." The Reformation defenders replied that if Rome were correct, no one could be justified in this life, for no one is sinless or can be called righteous if the verdict has to rest on his own experience.
The justification of the ungodly through the imputed righteousness of Christ does not mean that God's verdict is a fiction which is based on no reality. Before God, Christ's atonement is a reality which is all-sufficient. It does not need to be supplemented by any other reality. God's verdict of justification is not grounded on any reality within the believing sinner. This is the rock of offense on which Rome stumbled. But not only Rome. It is a rock of offense within Protestantism too. There is the continual temptation to base the meritorious ground of God's verdict of justification upon some reality or moral qualtiy within the believer rather than upon the sinless life and atoning death of Christ that is imputed (reckoned) unto the repentant sinner. This really means injecting something of the subjective element of sanctification into justification, which immediately corrupts the doctrines of both justification and sanctification.
(Link to entire special issue: "Christ Our Righteousness" in pdf)
Present Truth Magazine Archive
Volume 1: The Restoration of the Gospel
Volume 2: Justification by Faith
Volume 3: The "Charismatic Movement"
Volume 4: Church Unity and the Gospel
Volume 5: Justification by Faith and the Charismatic Movement
Volume 6: Justification by Faith and the Holiness Movement
Volume 7: Law and Gospel
Volume 8: Do We Distort the Gospel?"
Volume 9: Justification by Faith and the Current Religious Scene
Volume 10: The Question of Authority
Volume 11: The Burning Passion of the New Testament
Volume 12: Pointers on How to Read the Bible
Volume 13: Justification by Faith and Christian Ethics
Volume 14: Justification by Faith and Eschatology
Volume 15: The Upside Down Gospel
Volume 16: Sanctification
Volume 17: Antichrist Today
Volume 18: The Radical Nature of Justification
Volume 19: The Reformation Doctrine of Justification by Faith
Volume 20: The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification by Faith
Volume 21: Justification by Faith and the Bible
Volume 22: The Old Testament
Volume 23: New Testament Eschatology
Volume 24: Nothing But the Gospel
Volume 25: The Primacy of Justification
Volume 26: The Centrality of the Gospel
Volume 27: Election
Volume 28: Special Edition "Covenant"
Volume 29: Theology and the Body
Volume 30: The Righteousness of Christ
Volume 31: The Man of Romans 7
Volume 32: Christ Our Righteousness (part 1)
Volume 33: Christ Our Righteousness (part 2)
Volume 34: Christ Our Righteousness (part 3)
Volume 35: Christ Our Righteousness (part 4)
Volume 36: Christ Our Righteousness (part 5)
Special Issue: Christ Our Righteousness (PDF only)
Volume 37: The Kingdom of God
Volume 38: Man (part 1)
Volume 39: Man (part 2)
Volume 40: Man (part 3)
Special Issue: What is Man? (PDF only)
Special Issue: What is Life? (PDF only)
Volume 41: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament
Special Issue: Christ: the Meaning of All Scripture, Life, and History (PDF only)
Volume 42: New Testament Witnessing
Volume 43: Restoring the Gospel to Its Rightful State
Volume 44: Essays on Justification by Faith
Volume 45: Jesus Christ the Elect
Volume 46: Protestants in Crisis Over Justification by Faith
Volume 47: Justification by Faith and John Henry Newman
Volume 49: The Gospel as an Evangelical Confession of Faith
Volume 50: What is the Gospel?
Volume 51: Amazing Grace!! (PDF only)
Volume 52: Justification by Faith and the "Mark of the Beast"