Justifying Faith is Lively Love in a Living God
As noted last week we are back at it in our Larger Catechism lesson with another look at the doctrine of justification. Whereas we were more in the ordo part of the conversation today we are going to be thinking on the historia portion. When it comes to the way justification “happens” in real life to the sinner what measures of application and preparation are involved? We’ve talked before how the preaching of the gospel is the means by which men and women come to faith and what we will discover is that this coming to a knowledge of the truth is unsurprisingly moved in the treatment of the soul through the righteousness of Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are a Trinitarian people and it is important for us to always give proper due to every member of the Trinity when it comes to the big, and small, things that are done for us in being made right in the eyes of God. So today here are our Q/A’s as we get started:
Q. 72: What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
Q. 73: How does faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness.
As a special gift of God we receive this justifying faith through the regenerating work of the Spirit in applying to us the righteousness purchased by Christ. (Titus 3:5). In this renewal we then respond by hearing in the depths of our souls the offer to come and be welcome in the bosom of our Savior. The word and the Spirit work together as seed and water move germination, to grow the lively fruit of grace, faith, in the heart of the newfound believer. In a mechanical way this is what Paul is referencing when he talks about one minister planting a seed, another watering, and God causing the growth. Where the preaching of the Bible cannot be found neither can there be saving faith. They are bound together in the purposes of the Lord to bring glory to Himself. It must be said at this point that we believe as the catechism points out that merely uttering words of commitment is not saving, or justifying faith. Many who have said “Lord, Lord” will be shown in the day of judgment to be not of Jesus. (Matt. 7:21-23). How can we know the difference between what we can term “mouth faith” vs. “heart faith”. One of our father’s in the faith, Zacharias Ursinus, helps us understand this better:
Justifying or saving faith differs, therefore, from the other kinds of faith, because it alone is that assured confidence by which we apply unto ourselves the merit of Christ, which is done when we firmly believe that the righteousness of Christ is granted and imputed unto us, so that we are accounted just in the sight of God.
We read above that true justifying faith will always be accompanied with good works, or fruit which comes from it. There is a natural change to the being as the image of God is restored that moves the justified to seek to be sanctified. However, we are never to confuse the graces which are born out of faith for faith itself. For it neither creates nor sustains it. That alone is the gift and grant of Christ always by free grace. Why do we need to make the distinction? Primarily because so many people confuse the means for the ground, and there is nothing new about this either. The Apostle Paul was constantly correcting the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and others about what was the foundation for their eternal hope. To quote a favorite hymn of some, “Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, come to Thee for dress, Helpless, look to Thee for grace: Foul, I to the fountain fly, Wash me, Savior, or I die.”. We are to always remember that there is nothing in us that can save us. All our promise is in Christ, and in Him alone. (Gal. 3:11). Faith is not an emotional response, but a spiritual one. It is not to be understood in some kind of Hallmark way of being a support for the heart of a believer. Too many take good words like, faith, hope, and love, and reduce them to platitudes. They are instead to be used to strengthen the capital defense of the Christian life.
Likewise, we are to remember that when it comes to justification and the place of faith that this resting and trusting in the finished work of Christ is to be the light by which we live. We’ll close today with a quote from the Belgic Confession:
For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely. Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God—for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.”.
Here is why this is important:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church