A Close Look at “Sola Fide” (Part2)

December 18, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are looking at the 4th sola—sola fide or faith alone. This declares God justifies the sinner by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. As I said, this definition of sola fide introduces to us two important words that will need explanation: faith and justification. Last week we looked at  
  • The importance of justification
  • The necessity of justification
  • The nature of justification
  • The source of justification
  • The ground of justification
  Because of the importance of this study, I am going to review what we have learned last week and give more elaboration on some points.  

The importance of justification

Last week I showed you that Justification by faith alone was the “material principle” or the matter or the substance of the debate between the Protestants and Catholics during the 16th century. The Protestant Reformers held to sola fide (justification by faith only in Christ alone) while the Medieval Roman Catholics taught that justification also involves human effort and merit. The Catholic hierarchy even anathemized (i.e., threatened with divine punishment) those who believed in sola fide.   In spite of the threatened divine punishment by the Catholic Church, like the Reformers of the past Evangelical Christians today hold on to the principle of sola fide because they realize its vital importance.   Justification is vital to the life of the evangelical church. Martin Luther declared that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article by which the church stands or falls. He added, “without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour.”   Justification is vital to biblical preaching. No other doctrine so illustrates the sinfulness of man and the futility of his efforts to save himself. No other doctrine so glorifies Christ as the sole ground of our salvation.[1]   Justification is vital to effective ministry and missions. Since the Reformation every subsequent season of fruitful ministry has seen a renewed emphasis on justification by faith alone. As I said, the preaching of the great evangelists, whether John Bunyan (1628-88), George Whitefield (1714-70), John Wesley (1703-91), Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), or Charles Spurgeon (1834-92) demonstrate this to be the case. [2]   Justification is vital to the salvation of the sinner. Justification is God’s answer to the most important of all human questions: How can I be right with God? How can I, a sinner, be accepted by a holy and righteous judge? Millard Erickson writes: “Mankind has a twofold problem as a result of sin and the fall. On the one hand, there is a basic corruption of human nature; our moral character has been polluted through sin. This aspect of the cruse is nullified by regeneration, which reverses the direction and general tendencies of human nature. The other problem remains, however: our guilt or liability to punishment for having failed to fulfill God’s expectations. It is to this problem that justification relates.”[3]   May I add, Justification is vital to a proper understanding the gospel. Justification is the heart of the gospel. You cannot understand the gospel properly unless you have an idea of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Here is something that we need to realize. When Paul explains the gospel in Romans or defends it in Galatians, he does so in terms of justification by faith. Ro 3:20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous [justified] in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. Ro 3:22-24 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Ro 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Ro 3:30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Ro 4:2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. Ro 4:5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. Ro 4:25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Ro 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Ro 5:9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! Ro 5:16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. Ro 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. Ro 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Ro 8:33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Gal 2:15-17 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. 17 If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! Gal 3:8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." Gal 3:24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Gal 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (See also Ac 13:38,39; 1Co 6:11; Tit 3:7)  

The necessity of justification

Why do we need justification? Justification is necessary because of the nature of both God and man; God is too holy and man is too sinful. On one hand, God the righteous Judge has revealed His wrath against all human sin (Ro 1:18). On the other hand, man is a rebel, a lawbreaker, a moral and religious failure and hopelessly lost. What, then, can be done about man’s hopeless situation? God’s answer is justification. Here is how Paul puts it in Romans 3:21-24: But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  

The source of justification

The source of our justification is the grace of God.   Ro 3:23-24 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  

The ground of justification

The ground of our justification is the work of Christ.   Ro 3:24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  

The nature of justification

Adapted from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, pp. 723-724: The use of the word justify in the Bible indicates that justification is a legal declaration by God. The verb justify in the New Testament (Gk. dikaioō) has a range of meanings, but a very common sense is “to declare righteous.” For example we read in Luke 7:29 (RSV), “When they heard this all the people and the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John” Of course the people and the tax collectors did not make God to be righteous—that would be impossible for anyone to do. Rather they declared God to be righteous. . . . Some Old Testament examples of the word justify add support to this understanding. For example, we read in Deuteronomy 25:1 (NASB) of judges who justify the righteous and condemn the wicked” Now in this case “justify” must mean “declare to be righteous or not guilty,” just as “condemn” means “declare to be guilty.” It would make no sense to say that “justify” here means “to make someone to be good internally,” for judges simply do not and cannot make people to be good on the inside. Nor does a judge's act of condemning the wicked make that person to be evil on the inside; it simply declares that eh person is guilty with respect to the particular crime that has been brought before the court. . . . The same idea is found in Proverbs 17:15 NASB: “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” Here the idea of legal declaration is especially strong. Certainly it would not be an abomination to the Lord if “justify” meant “to make someone good or righteous inside.” In that case, to “justify the wicked” would be a very good thing in God’s sight. But if “justify” means “declare to be righteous,” then it is perfectly clear why “he who justifies the wicked” is an abomination to the LORD.” [Let me rephrase Pr 17:15 this way: “That judge who for bribe declared the wicked man to be righteous or the righteous man to be guilty provoked the Lord to anger.”] In this sense of “declare to be righteous” or “declare to be not guilty” Paul frequently uses the word to speak of God’s justification of us, His declaration that we, though guilty sinners, are nonetheless righteous in His sight. (Ro 3:20,26,28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:4,10; Gal 2:16; 3:24). This sense is particularly evident, for example, in Romans 4:5 NIV: “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Here Paul cannot mean that God “makes the wicked to be righteous” (by changing them internally and making them morally perfect), for then they would have merit or works of their own to depend on. Rather, he means that God declares the wicked to be righteous in His sight, not on the basis of their good works, but in response to their faith.   Grudem adds, “It is important to emphasize that this legal declaration in itself does not change our internal nature or character at all. In this sense of ‘justify,’ God issues a legal declaration about us. This is why theologians have also said that justification is forensic, where the word forensic means ‘having to do with legal proceedings.’   Here is a good illustration to understand justification as the objective forensic declaration as opposed to subjective inward transformation. “The distinction is like that of the distinction between the act of a surgeon and the act of a judge. The surgeon, when he removes an inward cancer, does something in us. That is not what a judge does—he gives a verdict regarding our judicial status. If we are innocent he declares accordingly.”  

The elements of Justification

When God justifies us He declares that we are just in His sight. This declaration has two sides: one involving subtraction and one involving addition.  
  1. First, justification involves forgiveness (subtraction).
  This means that God declares that we have no penalty to pay for sin, including past, present, and future sins.   Here are two passages that show justification includes forgiveness:
  • Ac 13:38-39
  • Ro 4:4-8
  Here are passages that show that forgiveness includes all sins.
  • Ro 8:1,33-34, 38-39
  Through Christ’s passive obedience, that is, when He suffered and died for our sins, our sins were imputed to Him. In the same way in which Adam’s sins were imputed to us, so God imputed our sins to Christ; that is, God thought of them as belonging to Christ, and Christ paid the penalty for it. The result is our sin and guilt are subtracted.
  • Isa 53:6,12 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;  and the LORD has laid on him   the iniquity of us all.   12 …   For he bore the sin of many,   and made intercession for the transgressors.  
  • Gal 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."
  • 1Pe 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
  • 2Co 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  1. Secondly, justification involves imputation of perfect righteousness (addition).
  This second aspect is very important. As Grudem explains: “If God merely declared us to be forgiven from our past sins, that would not solve our problems entirely, for it would only make us morally neutral before God. We would be in the state that Adam was in before he had done anything right or wrong in God’s sight—he was not guilty before God, but neither had he earned a record of righteousness before God. . . . However, such a movement is not enough to earn us favor with God. We must rather move from a point of moral neutrality to a point of having positive righteousness before God, the righteousness of a life of perfect obedience to Him. . . .   Therefore the second aspect of justification is that God must declare us not to be merely neutral in His sight but actually to be righteous in his sight. In fact, he must declare us to have the merits of perfect righteousness before Him. . . . Paul speaks more specifically about this is in the New Testament.   As a solution to our need of righteousness Paul says in Ro 3:21-22 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.   Paul describes this righteousness as something that is credited to a believer: Ro 4:3 What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."   Paul also says that this has come to us through the obedience of Christ for Paul says in Romans 5:19, at the end of this extensive discussion of justification by faith, that through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.   By Christ’s active obedience and perfect life on earth and as that life is imputed to us, we are judged by God to be positively innocent, even righteous. This is far richer than mere forgiveness. We receive Christ’s perfect righteousness.

What is the importance of understanding justification in terms of imputation?

Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 727,728 It is essential to the heart of the gospel to insist that God declares us to be just or righteous not on the basis of our actual condition of righteousness, which he thinks of as belonging to us. This was the heart of the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism at Reformation. Protestantism since the time of Martin Luther has insisted that justification does not change us internally and it is not a declaration based in any way on any goodness that we have in ourselves. . . . The traditional Roman Catholic understanding of justification is very different from this. The Roman Catholic understands justification as something that changes us internally and makes us more holy within. According to the Roman Catholic teaching, justification is first obtained by water baptism and then faith is necessary if an adult is to receive justification or to continue in the state of justification. The Roman Catholic view may be said to understand justification as based not on imputed righteousness but on infused righteousness—that is, righteousness that God actually puts into us and that changes us internally and in terms of our actual moral character. Then He gives us varying measures of justification according to the measure of righteousness that has been infused or placed within us and to our disposition or cooperation.   The result of this Roman Catholic view of justification is that people cannot be sure if they are in a “state of grace” where they experience God’s complete acceptance and favor.   They never come to the experience of blessedness found in Romans 4:4-8. Ro 4:4-8 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 Blessed are they   whose transgressions are forgiven,   whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man   whose sin the Lord will never count against him."   They never come to experience complete peace with God as found in Romans 5:1,2. Ro 5:1,2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we   have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we   rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.   They never come to experience the assurance of salvation: Ro 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Ro 8:33-39 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?. . . 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.   These are but some of the important reasons why we need to guard the principle of sola fide. May the Lord help us to cherish this doctrine, the article by which the church stands or falls. [1] Terry L. Johnson, The Case for Traditional Protestantism, pp. 77-78 [2] Terry L. Johnson, The Case for Traditional Protestantism, pp. 77-78 [3] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1985), p. 954