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A look at Justification by Faith Alone

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In Justification, is God pleased with us because he makes us righteous or because he credits it to our account? The question isn’t whether or not God loves us. Even while we were sinners he loved us (Romans 5:8). The question is about what God does, when he reaches out in love, in order to make us acceptable to Himself. As Leighton Ford said “God loves us the way we are, but too much to leave us that way”

Imputed righteousness teaches that no work of our own contributes to our righteous standing before God. In other words, when God sees us as righteous, it is not because of anything we’ve done, not even faith. The reason for such beliefs stem from a particular understanding of Paul.

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28 ESV)”

So this is taken to mean that is saying works of righteousness don’t count towards our right standing with God. Rather when one has faith in God, they are united to Christ and so are imputed (credited) the righteousness works of Christ. So that God treats them *as if* they were righteous. And *then* proceeds to change them and actually make them righteous.

There are a few issues that I see with this view, but I will deal with two assumptions being made.

1) When Paul is talking about “the Law” here, he is talking about the entire Mosaic Covenant that God made with the Israelites at Sinai. The whole issue of faith vs Law here is really about how one got into the Old Covenant and how one gets into the New Covenant.

“For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:13-14 ESV)”

Paul isn’t saying that God had no moral obligations for humanity to follow before Moses came along. But that the Covenant with Moses was not yet given. When Paul says that we are no longer justified by the law, he is saying that in order to be part of the people of God, those who are being made righteous, we no longer need to observe the Mosaic Covenant. This covenant was marked (among other things) by circumcision. This is how it was know that one belonged to God’s people and was subjecting themselves to the Law/Mosaic Covenant. Paul is saying that this is no longer necessary because there is a New Covenant, with a New entry requirement: Faith. Apart from the rituals and ceremonies (works) of the law. That is why Paul goes on that the fact we aren’t justified by works, means that God is the God of Gentiles too not just the Israelites.

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. (Romans 3:28-30 ESV)”

The use of the phrase *God of the Jews* and *God of the Gentiles* is being used in a covenantal sense, not a general sense. Because God is already the God of all creation.

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, (Psalm 24:1 ESV)”

Paul is saying that now, in order to be part of God’s people, one need not be part of the Mosaic Covenant. Because Christ has come and instituted a New Covenant. Where faith is the only thing needed to participate in, not the works of the Old Covenant like circumcision and animal sacrifice. In fact, Abraham, father of the Israelites, was counted as being part of God’s people, when he believed God’s promise, apart from the Mosaic Law. What kind of faith was this? God promised Abraham that he would be a father of many nations. And that at his old age, he and Sarah would have a child. Abraham believed that God could bring life from his “dead” body and Sarah’s barren womb. This prefigured the faithfulness of Messiah. Adam by his disobedience brought death to all. Jesus by his obedience brought salvation to God brought salvation to all (immortality). He was obedient even unto death, trusting His Father to resurrect and Glorify Him. That’s why in order to be counted as part of Messiah’s people, we only need faith. Faith in God to give us new life in Jesus Christ. To save us from our sins and from death. To bring resurrection to our soul and body. So Abraham’s faithfulness looks forward to salvation in the death and resurrection of Messiah. Jesus’ faithfulness is what brings salvation by his death and resurrection. And our faithfulness participates in the salvation of brought by Messiah by his death and resurrection.

“He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:19-25 ESV)”

So God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s seed, and Abraham is father of the Israelites, and Christ is the Israelite through whom the world is blessed. And how one becomes one of Messiah’s people and receives that blessing is true faith. Physical ancestry and the Mosaic law don’t automatically make one a child of Abraham spiritually. Faith was always the true marker or Messiah’s people. Not circumcision or the Mosaic law. The Spiritual Israel, included but was not limited to those inside National Israel. And not even all who were part of the Mosaic Covenant had a spiritual relationship with God.

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith….

…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith….

…Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise…

…So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:8-9, 14, 16-18, 24-29 ESV)”

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:14-16 ESV)

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (Romans 9:4-8 ESV)”

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:14-16 ESV)

2) It’s already been shown that the Law being spoken of isn’t an abstract moral principle, but the Mosaic Covenant (which of course does contain said principles). And the works that Paul says we are exempt from in order to be righteous are the rituals and ceremonies of the old one. For they were all but a foreshadowing of Christ.

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1 ESV)”

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 ESV)”

In fact, Paul constantly contrasts faith with *those* kinds of works, but not moral works.Rather we enter into God’s New Covenant by faith. And we are seen as personally righteous by *virtue of* Spirit empowered faith. And we are continually being made righteous by Spirit empowered works of faith.

“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:2-6 ESV)

The problem is that on the system of imputation, Paul is saying we are justified (made righteous) by faith apart from any works. We do not contribute anything to our moral standing before God. However we are required to have faith. So the faith must be something morally neutral. Otherwise we are contributing something righteous to our standing before God which this system says we cannot.

“But Yosh, faith is not a work, so it doesn’t count towards our righteousness.” That misses the point. Because 1) I’ve already argued that Paul doesn’t contrast faith and personal righteousness but faith and ceremonial righteousness. Aka having to obey the ceremonial law, in order to be counted as having right standing with God. The ceremonial righteousness isn’t a personal one because somebody could follow it to a fault and still not be considered right with God. Aka the Pharisees.

2) If you claim that Paul’s issue with the “works of the law” is about personal righteousness, then faith which is a required prerequisite for imputation, cannot itself be righteous. That’s why on the imputed righteousness system the faith we contribute is but a tool in order for Christ’s personal righteousness to be imputed to us. It has no intrinsic moral worth in itself, except God decides to treat it as if it did and so grant you righteousness. So imputed righteousness is not actual righteousness but Nominal (in name only). Making God’s primary concern not about actual righteousness but abstract relations that don’t reflect reality.

These sort of ideas are reflected in the likes of Luther and Calvin:

From: “William Of Ockham and the Death Of Universals,” by Neal Magee (U).http://web.syr.edu/~nmagee/ockham.html#ockham1

At the heart of Scotus’ and Ockham’s teaching on grace and justification lies the concept that the meritorious quality of a good act is not inherent in the act but is ascribed to it by God. Thisobviously parallels . . . Ockham’s view on universals, since the definition of what is good lies in the will of God . . .

“Theology in Western Europe from Gabriel Biel to John Calvin,” Michael L. Czapkay Sudduth (P), University of Oxford, M.Phil. Exam in Philosophical Theology (1994).http://www.homestead.com/philofreligion/files/RESSAY1.htm

There is substantial evidence which supports the contention that John Calvin was influenced by two prominent features of late medieval theology: voluntarism and the dialectic of the two powers of two powers of God (theological features of both the via moderna and Schola Augustiniana Moderna).

Voluntarism held that the ultimate grounds of merit (ratio meriti) of an act was not intrinsic moral value, but the will of God. Here the moral and meritorious realms are seen as discontinuous. This is should be contrasted with the intellectualist school (represented, e.g., in Thomas Aquinas), which held that there was a proportion or equity between the moral and meritorious value of an act. The ratio meriti was intrinsic to an act, determined by its moral worth ex natura rei. Voluntarism sought to ground the meritorious value of an act in the extrinsic dimension of God’s will, specifically in hiscovenant with man, according to which the meritorious value of an act is a matter ex pacto divino. Duns Scotus applied this principle to the merits of Christ. He claimed that the Christ’s merits and passion had no intrinsic value, but rather its meritorious value was conferred on it by God.

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=6802The Reformer from Geneva also took up Ockham’s view of the Incarnation, as McGrath noted in A Life of John Calvin (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1990). Calvin “makes it clear that the basis of Christ’s merit is not located in Christ’s offering of himself,” McGrath wrote, “but in the divine decision to accept such an offering as of sufficient merit for the redemption of mankind (which corresponds to the voluntarist [nominalist] approach). For Calvin, ‘apart from God’s good pleasure, Christ could not merit anything’ [Institutes, II.xvii.i-iv].” McGrath also noted that “Calvin’s continuity appears to be with the late medieval voluntarist tradition, deriving from William Ockham and Gregory of Rimini.”

Moreoverk, I don’t think one will find scripture supporting the idea the faith is morally neutral. Faith is a gift of God that’s brought about in the hearts of people by the Holy Spirit. God’s grace works on the persons heart and once they stop resisting, faith comes and they are able to believe.

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, (1 Corinthians 12:3-9 ESV)”

All of these gifts require human co-operation to exercise them. That’s why we are held accountable for our use of or lack of using the gifts of God (Matthew 25:14-30). But they are gifts nonetheless because without the Spirit, we cannot please God.

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8 ESV)”

But those in the Spirit can please God “In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4 ESV)”

And faith pleases God “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)”

 

God works with us and in us in order to make us pleasing to Himself. Salvation and righteousness is not Monergisitc (one energy/work) but Synergistic. With God both initiating it and being in the process. Not destroying human will but transforming it. So that we are actually made righteous and actually conformed to the image of Christ. And Christ is the image of God. And we were made to be living images of God. That’s why Saint Irenaeus in the second century said “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)”

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)”

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30 ESV)”

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This entry was posted on July 17, 2015 by in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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