Forensic Friday: What Am I Missing?

I have made this point in the comments on various posts but do not believe I have done so in a post itself. The point is obviously related to the priority of justification to sanctification specifically with regard to the righteousness we possess by faith in Christ.

The doctrine of justification teaches that God accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone. That would seem to close the case. I no longer fear condemnation – either in this life or the life to come – because by faith in Christ I am now entirely acceptable in God’s sight. With justification comes peace of conscience.

But along comes my unionist friend (I think we’re still friends) and he says that yes, you’re righteous but you still don’t have an infused righteousness. In other words, if I understand correctly, I need to be both justified and sanctified if I am going to avoid condemnation on judgment day.

What I don’t understand is not that sanctification is one of the benefits of the redemption purchased by Christ, or that sanctification is part of salvation, or that those who are justified will also produce fruit and evidence of their saving faith in the form of good works. What I don’t understand is how this construction – you need to be both justified and sanctified – is supposed to be undermine the priority of justification. Here’s why.

In justification I receive all of Christ’s righteousness. In sanctification, I receive only part of his righteousness because in this life, as the Confession of Faith says, sanctification is imperfect and there still abides in me “some remnants of corruption in every part.” (16.2). In other words, sanctification ultimately needs the lift of justification if we are going to cross the threshold of God’s righteous judgment. The righteousness of sanctification being incomplete and imperfect will stand or fall on judgement day depending on whether the righteousness of justification is present – that is, his perfect righteousness is my perfect righteousness.

How this does not make justification prior to sanctification, I cannot fathom. And this intuition is confirmed by chapters on sanctification like Article 24 from the Belgic Confession (“On the Sanctification of Sinners”):

although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work.

So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior.

In other words, the pastoral nature of justification and its priority is at the heart of the Reformation. The complete and perfect righteousness of Christ, received by faith alone, is the only reality that will free “the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God’s approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves” (Belgic Confession, Art. 23). We don’t look to sanctification in the same way that we do to justification. If we did we would live a life of fear because we know that our personal righteousness is imperfect and incomplete in this life.

Am I clueless?

Forensic Friday: Warfield on Justification

Sometimes we are told that Justification by Faith is “out of date.” That would be a pity, if it were true. What it would mean would be that the way of salvation was closed and “no thoroughfare” nailed up over the barriers. There is not justification for sinful men except by faith. The works of a sinful man will, of course, be as sinful as he is, and nothing but condemnation can be built on them. Where can he get works upon which he can found his hope of justification, except from Another? His hope of Justification, remember – that is, of being pronounced righteous by God. Can God pronounce him righteous except on the ground of works that are righteous? Where can a sinful man get works that are righteous? Surely, not from himself; for, is he not a sinner, and all his works as sinful as he can offer to God as righteous. And where will he find such works except in Christ? Or how will he make them his own except by faith in Christ?

Justification by Faith, we see, is not to be set in contradiction to justification by Works. It is set in contradiction only to justification by our Own Works. It is justification by Christ’s Works. The whole question, accordingly, is whether we can hope to be received into God’s favor on the ground of what we do ourselves, or only on the ground of what Christ does for us. If we expect to be received on th e ground of what we do ourselves – that is what is called Justification by Works. If on the ground of what Christ has done for us – that is what is mean by Justification by Faith. Justification by Faith means, that is to say, that we look to Christ and to him alone for salvation, and come to God pleading Christ’s death and righteousness as the ground of our hope to be received into his favor. If Justification by Faith is out of date, that means, then, that salvation by Christ is out of date. There is nothing, in that case, left to us but that each man must just do the best he can do to save himself.

Justification by Faith does not mean, then, salvation by believing things instead of by doing right. It means pleading the merits of Christ before the throne of grace instead of our own merits. It may be doing right to believe things, and doing right is certainly right. The trouble with pleading our own merits before God is not that merits of our own would not be acceptable to God. The trouble is that we haven’t any merits of our own to plead before God. Adam, before his fall, had merits of his own, and because he had merits of his own he was, in his own person acceptable to God. He didn’t need Another to stand between him and God, whose merits he could plead. And, therefore, there was no talk of his being Justified by Faith. But we are not like Adam before the fall; we are sinners and have no merits of our own. It we are to be justified at all, it must be on the ground of the merits of Another, whose merits can be made ours by faith. And that is the reason why God sent his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life. If we do not believe in him, obviously we must perish. But if we believe in him, we shall not perish but have everlasting life. That is just Justification by Faith. Justification by Faith is nothing other than obtaining everlasting life by believing in Christ. If Justification by Faith is out of date, then salvation through Christ is out of date. And as there is none other name under heaven, given among men, wherein we must be saved, if salvation through Christ is out of date then is salvation itself out of date. Surely, in a world of sinful men, needing salvation, this would b a great pity. (“Justification by Faith, Out of Date,” Selected Shorter Writings, I, pp. 281-282)

What is interesting to notice, at least for this forensically obsessive compulsive oldlifer, is the way Warfield identifies salvation with justification as in: “If Justification by Faith is out of date, that means, then, that salvation by Christ is out of date. There is nothing, in that case, left to us but that each man must just do the best he can do to save himself.”

Warfield may be in error, and may need correction by the likes of — insert the name of your favorite union theologian here. But he does exemplify the way some of us old timers have regarded the centrality of justification to the Reformed faith. It also accounts for why some become a tad concerned to hear that without union in the picture to supplement justification we have an impoverished understanding of salvation. Warfield explains well that justification is at the heart of the gospel.

Forensic Friday: An OPC Classic

Are Christians really new creatures? It certainly does not seem so. They are subject to the same old conditions of life to which they were subject before; if you look upon them you cannot notice any very obvious change. They have the same weaknesses, and, unfortunately, they have sometimes the same sins. The new creation, if it be really new, does not seem to be very perfect; God can hardly look upon it and say, as of the first creation, that it is all very good.

This is a very real objection. But Paul meets it gloriously in the very same vers, already considered, in which the doctrine of the new creation is so boldly proclaimed. “It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me” – that is the doctrine of the new creation. But immediately the objection is taken up; “The life which I now live in the flesh,” Paul continues, “I live by the faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” “The life which I now live in the flesh” – there is the admission. Paul admits that the Christian does live a life in the flesh, subject to the same old earthly conditions and with a continued battle against sin. “But,” says Paul (and here the objection is answered), “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The Christian life is lived by faith and not by sight; the great change has not yet come to full fruition; sin has not yet been fully conquered; the beginning of the Christian life is a new birth, not an immediate creation of the full-grown man. But although the new life has not yet come to full fruition, the Christian knows that the fruition will not fail; he is confident that the God who has begun a good work in him will complete it unto the day of Christ . . . . That is what Paul means by living the Christian life by faith.

Thus the Christian life, though it begins by a momentary act of God, is continued by a process. In other words – to use theological language – justification and regeneration are followed by sanctification. In principle the Christian is already free from the present evil world, but in practice freedom must still be attained. Thus the Christian life is not a life of idleness, but a battle.

That is what Paul means when he speaks of faith working through love (Gal. v. 6). . . . True faith does not do anything. When it is said to do something (as when our Lord said that it can remove mountains), that is only by a very natural shortness of expression. Faith is the exact opposite of works; faith does not give, it receives. So when Paul says that we do something by faith, that is just another way of saying that of ourselves we do nothing, when it is said that faith works through love that means that through faith the necessary basis of all Christian work has been obtained in the removal of guilt and the birth of the new man, and that the Spirit of God has been received – the Spirit who works with and through the Christian man for holy living. The force which enters the Christian life through faith and works itself out through love is the power of the Spirit of God. (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, pp. 146-47)

Forensic Friday: Vos Weighs In

To [Paul’s] view the resurrection with all that clusters around it, has behind it a still more potential principle, a principle from which in fact it springs, and in whose depths it lies anchored. And this deeper principle is that of the acquisition of righteousness, a forensic principle through and through, and yet no less than the resurrection a transforming principle also. It is especially by considering the nexus between Christ and the believer that this can be most clearly perceived: in the justification of Christ lies the certainty and the root of the Christian’s resurrection. For the supreme fruit of Christ’s justification, on the basis of passive and active obedience, is nothing else but the Spirit, and in turn the Spirit bears in Himself the efficacious principle of all transformation to come, the resurrection with its entire compass included. (The Pauline Eschatology, p. 151)

In our opinion Paul consciously and consistently subordinated the mystical aspect of the relation to Christ to the forensic one. Paul’s mind was to such an extent forensically oriented that he regarded the entire complex of subjective spiritual changes that take place in the believer and subjective spiritual blessings enjoyed by the believer as the direct outcome of the forensic work of Christ applied in justification. The mystical is based on the forensic, not the forensic on the mystical. (“‘Legalism’ in Paul’s Doctrine of Justification,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., p. 384)

Forensic Friday — E. J. Young's Turn


This verse (Is 53:6) is a veritable compend of life-giving theology. Here is the doctrine of total depravity – we had gone astray, we had turned each one to his own way. These words set forth the fact of our sinfulness. We had already sinned and were gone out of the way. This is to say that we were in no condition to save ourselves. If one has gone astray, he is lost and needs to be found.

Here too is the doctrine of God’s sovereignty – for He is the ultimate cause in the Servant’s suffering. Up until this point the LORD is not explicitly mentioned in Isaiah fifty-three. Now, however, it appears that it is He who causes our iniquity to strike upon the Servant. It is well to consider the thought carefully. The Servant was a righteous One, with no sin of His own. His death therefore must have been the work of evil men. It was an unjust death, for He did not deserve to die. Yet even this unjust death could not have occurred apart from the Lord’s so decreeing. The LORD does reign supreme in the heavens, and He foreordains all things that come to pass upon this earth.

In this verse there is also found the doctrine of salvation by grace, for the Lord, by causing our iniquity to light upon Him, has done that which was necessary to save His people. This verse, therefore is in perfect harmony with the remainder of the Bible, for everywhere throughout the pages of Scripture, salvation is set forth as the work of God and not of man. It is His free gift and all of grace. Here too is the doctrine of a vicarious punishment, for the terrible wrath of God which we deserved, struck Him in the stead of us. How clearly the Scripture sets before us the vicarious or substitutionary nature of the Servant’s death! If we do not believe, it is because the blindness of our hearts which is a result of our fall in Adam, still remains, and the veil has not been taken from our eyes.

Here too are the doctrines of satisfaction and expiation. It is the Servant who by His death offers a sacrifice to put away sin. It is He who sprinkles many nations. The iniquity which meets in his Soul is expiated by His death and that death satisfies every accusation that can be brought against the sinner, for it is because of His suffering that we are made right with God. And lastly, here is the comforting doctrine of Divine Providence. The Servant’s suffering was not accidental. It was brought about by God Himself who ordereth all things according to His own will. (E. J. Young, Isaiah 53: A Devotional and Expository Study, pp 57-58)