Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Justification Part II

Against the contemporary concept of non-sacrificial Christianity comes the harsh and most often times difficult to embrace words of our Lord from Matthew's tenth chapter, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

These words are spoken from the very authority of very God, and carry with them powerful consequences to becoming a follower of Christ. Following Christ could very well land one in the most despairing situation of broken relationships with family and close friends. Christ must take preeminence over all earthly relationships to such an extreme that earthly relationships must be forsaken for the cause of His Lordship and Kingdom if necessary. Whoever loves his Father or Mother more than Christ is not worthy of Him! This in no wise makes null and void all the Biblical texts speaking to the responsibility we have within the family unit. Christ is stressing the reality of the high cost of being his disciple.

Contained at the closing of the quote comes an even more powerful statement, this one pertaining not to our relationships with others. This statement from our Lord strikes directly against the hardened heart of hedonism that resides within all fallen mankind, "Whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me." Self-crucifixion. Death to self. The giving up of one's life, for the cause and purpose of the Kingdom of our Redeemer.

This self-sacrificial, high cost life that Christ is speaking of must be taken in a couple different perspectives. First, the cost of following Christ might truly lead to literally death. Oh how many have fallen due to the sword of opposition to the Kingdom. For preservation of truth, and loyalty to our Triune God, many have made their stand and tasted the martyrs death. Yet with so great an entrance into our Father's Kingdom were they ushered! What a blessing indeed to have suffered together with Christ, and what great a reward to sit down in the Abode of heavenly bliss.

Most often it is our experience in our Western Culture that literal death by martyr's sword is not the closing chapter of this temporal life. We rarely hear of persecution unto death. We scarcely are faced with any form of threatening because we are followers of Jesus. We do however carry a responsibility of self-crucifixion. Our responsibility insists upon a daily sacrifice of self. Not of literal self-sacrifice to the taking of this mortal life, but a purging and putting away of the deeds of the flesh. Those vile things which have brought enmity between God and man. A mortification of those things which separate us from living and walking by faith. Paul captures these thoughts with the following words, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" Notice this powerful statement of Paul's to the Church at Rome, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." These words command our putting away the deeds of the flesh, dying daily in Christ, crucifying self so that Christ may live through us, and living our life by faith in the Son of God.

You could sum up the sacrificial Christian life by appealing to the doctrine of sanctification. To be "sanctified" in it's simplest understanding is to be set apart unto God. The very moment we enter salvation we have been set apart unto God, a vessel now prepared for his glory. This is called most often "immediate sanctification." Yet, this is not the only Biblical understanding of sanctification. It is also a continuing process by which the Person of the Holy Spirit works within us that the deeds of the flesh might be put to death, and thus the fruit of the Holy Spirit is manifest in our lives. This is called "progressive sanctification." Scripture is abundantly clear in it's assertion that those who have been justified will enter the process of progressive sanctification. There will never be any argument from me, or any other orthodox theologian about the validity of the doctrine of universal progressive sanctification.

Now, with that being said, I must at this point return the reader's thoughts to the very doctrine that I originally set forth to discuss... Justification. Let me now urge the reader to carefully consider the following statement: Justification is not Sanctification. Let me repeat, justification is not sanctification. Once more, justification is not sanctification!

Justification is by faith alone in the Person and work of Jesus Christ alone, and justification is not contingent upon any act or action that follows converting faith. It is the most grave error of any individual to appeal to progressive sanctification as the means of declaring one just. This is why the thief on the cross remains the scripture's most beautiful example of justification by faith alone. The thief was indeed sanctified and set apart unto the Lord, and he did indeed confess our Lord, but as far as a long life experiencing the battle between flesh and spirit, he never experienced it. He did however believe on Christ and his faith was counted as righteousness.

James makes it clear that genuine faith will be accompanied by progressive sanctification as our life in Christ is "worked out." No one should ever argue against this point. Yet, it must be fervently argued with every bit of our being that justification is by faith alone! For this very cause I can state today with great authority that everyone believing on the Lord Jesus Christ will have eternal life (John 3:16).

The Christian life is capsuled in the concept of self-sacrifice. The Christian life includes good deeds that God before ordained that we should walk in them. The Christian life includes progressive sanctification. Any genuine Christian life will include these attributes as it is lived out. However, the Christian life is not entered into by these things! It is entered into by regeneration which produces faith which is counted as righteousness. Should another moment of this temporal life never be granted after that moment of faith by which we are alone justified, we will forever be with our Lord in eternity. Justification is by faith alone.

Again, let me reiterate that last statement: Should another moment of this temporal life never be granted after that moment of faith by which we are alone justified, we will forever be with our Lord in eternity.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Increasingly Alarmed: Justification by faith under attack.

I can't help but find myself increasingly alarmed at the discontent of professing believers with the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. As a matter of fact, I find the preceding statement quite alarming! Should it ever be conceived in the mind of a believer that justification by faith alone would be questioned in any manner? This entire conversation is quite frightening.

Recently in conversations with professing believers I have found myself defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone. I have also recently been preaching through the book of Romans, and I have become ever more aware of subtle attacks against the doctrine. Paul's argument for justification by faith has been pressed into my conscience with such effect that I'm very sensitive to any conversation pertaining to justification.

Paul's entire argument to the Church at Rome is demonstrated with no greater clarity than in the words, "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." Paul makes it clear that...

A. He is making it clear that justification is for the "one who does not work," and that justification is not the result of any form of work on behalf of any individual. If it is then that individual would have just cause to boast before God.

B. He is making it clear that justification is realized for the "ungodly," and is not granted when the ungodly find faith and then improve their ungodly condition. We come by to Christ by faith while in the most miserable condition! Any other view is in direct opposition to the historic doctrine of total depravity.

C. He makes a most powerful assertion that for the ungodly man who does not work to merit justification "his faith is counted as righteousness."

Let me now state a couple things for clarity sake, even though they may seem at first of no importance to the present writing. First, faith and repentance (two sides of the same coin, so to speak) come as a result of regeneration. We are granted the gifts of faith and repentance by God. Second, along with faith and repentance, God the Holy Spirit empowers and indwells the believer in order that they might then be conformed to Christ, and manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Just as Abraham himself showed forth his genuine faith from God as he offered up his son Isaac. Finally, all of salvation, whether regeneration, conversion, sanctification, or glorification, are all the result of God's grace. For we are made alive by grace! Faith and repentance are gifts of His grace! It is God's grace that works within us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure! We will be raised by the same power with which Christ was raised from the dead! Soli Deo Gloria! (I'm working on a few thoughts for a future post about the believer's obedience to the commands of scripture, so don't leap to an attack thinking I'm denying Christians should be obedient to the commands of scripture.)

Now, I hope the reader does recognize that I do not seek to invalidate the claim that states "genuine faith will result in genuine fruit." I do however hope the reader will understand that justification is not by fruit. Justification is not by turning one's life from repulsive ungodliness to accepted moral excellence. Justification is not by religious activity. Justification is not by the outworking of gracious gifts granted us by God. Justification is by faith! Will that faith result in good works that God before ordained that we should walk in them? Sure! However, justification remains by faith alone.

The thief on the cross manifested no great amount of "fruit" as it would be assessed by today's fundamentalist standards. He was never immersed in water. He was never involved actively in ministry local or worldwide. He never contributed financially to the work of missions. He never contributed to the ministry of a local assembly of believers. However, as an ungodly man with nothing in and of himself that he might present before God as acceptable, he was granted the marvelous gift of faith to which Christ responded, "Today you will be in paradise with me."

With that said, had that thief lived past that very dark hour he was immersed in, would he have been baptized? Would he have joined himself to other believers for fellowship? Would he have then found himself searching the scriptures that he might grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ? I certainly believe he would have! Genuine salvation according to scripture is accompanied by a manifestation of work of the holy Spirit within the believer. However, all that aside, he was justified when he believed! When he came clothed in self-abasement and totally dependent upon the Lord who hang beside him, his faith was counted as righteousness. According to many modern Evangelicals the thief should have went to torment because there was nothing to validate his conversion experience.

I have been told not to take obscure passages like that and build a doctrine upon it, because it's not the norm. I've been told the actual norm we find in scripture is the opposite of this. I've been told that opinions like mine are nothing more than silly excuses to preach people into heaven who make death bed confessions. I will now attempt to deal with each of these accusations.

1. Don't take an obscure passage and build a doctrine upon it, because it's not the norm.
I haven't. I have taken the entirety of scripture that teaches justification by faith alone, and simply set forth one of the most beautiful examples ever given to prove the veracity of the doctrine. It is actually far more dangerous to insinuate that in some obscure way this thief was justified in some manner not found elsewhere in scripture. This opens the door to a floodgate of religious philosophies that all claim various ways of justification. This thief was justified exactly like every other individual in Holy Writ. He believed God and his faith was counted as righteousness.

2. The actual norm in scripture is the opposite of the thief's account.
Such a statement tosses away the Biblical doctrine of God not being a respecter of persons. Such a statement concludes that the thousands saved on the day of Pentecost were all fitted into the same mold. Such a statement concludes that any mention of entire households believing was merely speaking of households with certain age groups, life spans, etc. On the Day of Pentecost we are told that Jews from all walks of life were present. Did God limit His saving grace to those who still had long days and much life ahead of them? The scripture actually does not give us a "norm" for the recipient of saving grace. Rather, it expresses God's saving goodness toward people from all walks of life, which definitely includes those with little life left to live(say that five times real fast). Perhaps it is our experience that most conversions we are familiar with include people who have much life left to live. Our experience does not dictate doctrine. The account given us in Holy Scripture must dictate our doctrine. The account given in scripture is that of justification by faith alone.

3. Opinions like these are silly excuses to preach people into heaven who have made death bed confessions.
I once knew of a gentleman who would visit hospitals and nursing homes religiously. He was a Free Will Baptist, and relentlessly pursued "professions of faith" from those he felt were facing death. He used scare tactics, empty philosophy, and other un-scriptural methods. He would then go on to preach some of their funerals, and would pronounce the individual heavenly bound as a result of their "death bed confession." This is wrong on so many levels that it would take a series of posts to deal with it. But to assume the position that I would desire such a practice for myself simply because I claim justification by faith alone apart from any human effort, is totally unfounded. It is honestly an attack on my character, and an attack on my ability to perform my duties as a minister in a Biblical manner. I have never addressed the eternal destination of an individual at their funeral. I always proclaim the Gospel with clarity and simplicity, and make sure those in attendance know that our church is ever ready to assist in any way possible. Even so, just because some have a twisted view of Biblical salvation, and they desire to offer false security to hurting families and friends, it does not negate the fact that justification is by faith alone apart from any work.

There is a part II coming very soon. I have also heard that such view of justification by faith alone stands in contrast to Jesus words in the Sermon on the Mount(Matthew 7), and that my view presented an easy Gospel, and that I was like so many who are ashamed to get tough and really tell the truth. I will deal with those things in a future post. For now, I pray these words find you well, and that your heart be ready to search the scriptures and see if these things be of God.