How the Gift and Grant of Faith is Our Eternal Hope
After a little break due to some sickness on my account we are back at it with our Thursday looks at the Larger Catechism. We’ve gone from considering Church membership and the advantages of the body of Christ for the believer to now contemplating some of the aspects of the work of the Lord in our redemption. The first thing we are going to look at is the way God grants forgiveness of sins to the believer. Yet, as we will discover, justification is about a lot more than merely the slate being made clean, because what was wrong with us in our depravity cannot be reduced to the fact we broke some commandments. The totality of our sinfulness should never either be undersold or ignored when it comes to the salvation we have received wholly by the grace of our Heavenly Father.
In today’s help (and next week’s) we’ll explore more about how justification particularly sets the stage for all the other benefits which come from our union with Christ. Here’s todays Q/A’s:
Q. 70: What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything 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.
Q. 71: How is justification an act of God’s free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified; yet in as much as God accepts the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them, and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.
As with their Shorter Catechism counterparts these questions make abundantly clear that justification is in every way an act that God performs, not a cooperating effort between the deity and the sinner. As Paul says if it was not of grace, then it would be of works. (Rom. 11:6). Grace by definition is freely offered and provided. (Eph. 2:8-10). The freeness of the act has its genesis in the reality that God at no point was required either by justice or fairness or any other type of attribute to relieve us of our condemnation due to us because of sin. Jehovah would have been, and still is in the case of the reprobate, wholly justified in bearing His wrath as a punishment for transgressing the law. (Rom. 6:23a). In fact central to the beauty of what we see in the doctrine of justification by faith alone is that God did bring His destructive power upon a man who knew not sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21). At no point are we consulted for our rescue from the pains of Hell forever. We are freely chosen in the Beloved and are freely granted the satisfaction for Divine justice found alone in Christ Jesus as the consequence of His laying down His life for sinners.
The bounty of this labor is not just given to us, but as the catechism (and the Bible) shows it is accounted as ours. (Rom. 4:5). So on the great day of judgment what is our plea? It is not guilty, by reason of the imputed righteousness of the righteous one. (Gal. 2:20). As some of the verses already reference testify the acceptance of the grant of life promised in Christ is certified by faith alone. (Rom. 3:28). But what about a passage like James 2:21-24 which seems to in some way contradict what we have been saying? The brother of Jesus says:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 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. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
While this is well-worn ground there needs to be an answer given, due to what seems like a plain reading that notes not only faith being a work, but that works after faith are necessary to the surety of justification. This is definitely one of those places where context matters. We’ll actually be going over this passage next Wednesday night at adult bible study, so more space will obviously be given there (and consider this an invitation). However, how do we deal with it? Simply put, James is in no way going against what Paul, or Jesus, says elsewhere. The point he is making is that Abraham showed his true faith in His trust in the will and word of God. If your faith is in your good deeds, the idea that being a “good person” is enough to get you into heaven, than that faith is worthless. It has no power, nor worth, to gain you entrance into the celestial kingdom. True saving faith will show itself in the obedience the redeemed give to the revealed testimony of the Lord found in the Scriptures. Abraham illustrates for us in the passage James quotes that the imputation of the righteousness of Christ granted by faith alone had took and was real, and not dead, but a lively mercy exhibiting itself in freely accepting whatever God required as being holy and good. In that sense Abraham shows his faith by his works, but even those works our catechism helpfully explains were not Abraham’s but Christ’s in him through the free gift of grace.
To close today we are barely scratching the surface of how justification rightly understood not only gives assurance which lasts, but in the gift and grant of faith provides all the hope and comfort the believer needs in death to know that as they leave this mortal coil they know with certainty where they will be in the time to come.
The passive and active obedience of Christ is our felicity in the day of trouble. Rest in Him.
Here’s a gentle read for more:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser