Tag: Justification

Scripture Alone or Faith Alone: What Sola Should Come First?

When we write or teach on the solas of the Reformation, with which distinctive should we begin? In the end, this is probably a matter of preference, but after completing Reeves and Chester’s (excellent) book Why the Reformation Still Matters and pondering how I would begin our young adult’s study on the Reformation, I was forced to wrestle with the question of order.

I had planned to begin with Scripture alone, but when I noticed that Reeves and Chester begin with justification by faith alone (chapter 1) and then move into Scripture alone (chapter 2), I was thrown into a fit of confusion. Alright, it wasn’t that severe, but I did develop two different introductions because I was slightly unsure how I should go about sequencing these Reformation distinctives.

In the end, I went with Sola Scriptura. But why begin our discussion of the five solas of the Reformation with Scripture Alone? Doesn’t it make more historical sense to begin with justification by faith alone (Sola Fide)?

The Truth of Justification, Found in the Bible
Yes, perhaps for the sake of historical order it helps to begin with justification by faith alone. If we follow the narrative of Luther’s theological and spiritual development, it makes sense to begin with the “material principle” of the Reformation, for it was two years after Luther posted the 95 Theses, in a disputation with John Eck (1519), that the Reformer officially concluded that Scripture is the supreme spiritual authority in the church and that church tradition is subject to the authority of Scripture, not vice-versa.

In Luther’s story, it is his search for assurance of salvation that led him to discover the glorious truth of justification by faith alone. Yet, he discovered this truth in the Scriptures, which would eventually lead him to declare Scripture Alone as the supreme source of spiritual authority for the individual Christian and the corporate church.

The doctrine of Scripture Alone, therefore, was implicit, we might say, in Luther’s search for assurance. It was Luther’s search for assurance that led him to find light in the Scripture and not in the teaching of the Roman Church. Indeed, it was the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning salvation that had cast Luther into a desperate spiritual state for several years. He finally had a breakthrough when he discovered the truth of justification in the Scriptures.

Not a Mere Logical Starting Point
Our of the Reformation principle of Scripture Alone, therefore, is not a mere intellectual or logical starting point. Intimately tied to the principle of Scripture Alone is the believer’s assurance of salvation, for it is in the Scriptures and only in the Scriptures that God has given us his clear Word on how a person can be right with his Creator. When the supreme authority of Scripture is disregarded or when Scripture is placed on an equal plane of authority with church tradition and counsels, then the gospel and assurance of salvation will soon be muddled and eventually lost.

As the Luther and the other reformers sought to promote theological, spiritual, and ecclesiastical transformation throughout Europe, they drew their doctrines from the Scripture, appealing to the Bible as God’s Word to man and our supreme spiritual authority for faith and practice. Even those who came before Luther who had critiqued the Roman Catholic Church—John Wycliff, John Hus—had rooted their arguments in the Bible, thus indicating that it was to Scripture they were finally beholden, not the church’s teaching.

Without a commitment to Scripture Alone, the Reformers’ commitment to other doctrines of the Reformation would have been weakened and eventually abandoned. It was because the Reformers were convinced that God has revealed his Word in the Bible alone and not in the teaching of the church that they were able to stand through intense opposition from the Catholic church.

That’s why I begin with Scripture Alone. 

Scripture Alone in the Life of Martin Luther: Augustine and the Doctrine of Justification

Luther’s spiritual breakthrough from the darkness of legalism to the glory of the gospel came because he sought spiritual light in the Scriptures. The doctrine of Scripture Alone was implicit in his search for assurance. But as we trace the development of Luther’s thought, we see how his conviction of Scripture Alone enabled him to depart from the early church fathers when they didn’t agree with Scripture. In Luther’s life, then, we see a vivid illustration of what he meant by the expression “Scripture Alone.” Take Luther’s engagement with Augustine over the doctrine of justification, for example. Continue reading “Scripture Alone in the Life of Martin Luther: Augustine and the Doctrine of Justification”

Justification, Works, and the Final Judgment: Making Sense of Romans 2:6-16

For those who love the truth of Romans 3:27 and 4:5—that we are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law—Romans 2:6-16 can be a tough, even unsettling passage. But it is vital that we understand this passage so that our minds and hearts remain clear and our walk with Christ unhindered. Every passage of Scripture is given to us as a gift from a wise and good God, and spiritual blessing comes by wrestling with difficult texts, not setting them aside in favor of familiar, less intimidating passages. Continue reading “Justification, Works, and the Final Judgment: Making Sense of Romans 2:6-16”

Replacing Christ with Spiritual Growth

Are there times when our desire for spiritual growth could hinder us from walking in the truth of the gospel?

For Christians serious about making progress in their spiritual lives, such a question sounds either intuitively wrong-headed or so easy to answer that it doesn’t even merit a response. Growth in godliness and right affections is one of the primary aims of the Christian life. Peter commands us, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The sign of a sound pastoral ministry is individual and corporate spiritual growth (see Eph 4:15, 18). But is there a way to approach spiritual growth that actually keeps us from making progress and diverts our gaze from Christ? Continue reading “Replacing Christ with Spiritual Growth”

Two Lessons Learned from John Piper's 'Brothers, We are Not Professionals'

Brothers We Are Not ProfessionalsJohn Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is simultaneously a challenging and encouraging read. Pastoral ministry is serious work. It is not to be taken casually or viewed as a less strenuous alternative to a other professions. It is a glorious, demanding, painful, thrilling, satisfying endeavor with eternal ramifications. Pastors are charged with the accurate handling of God’s Word and responsible for the souls of men. It is no wonder why Paul cried out, “Who is sufficient for these things” (2 Cor. 2:16)? Continue reading “Two Lessons Learned from John Piper's 'Brothers, We are Not Professionals'”

‘The God who Justifies’ by James White

tgwj-l.gifMartin Luther described the doctrine of justification—the topic of this book—as the article of faith that determines whether the church is standing or falling. Speaking of Luther, James Buchanan writes,

By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in medieval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death (14).

Justification, properly (and here briefly) defined teaches that God, solely out of sovereign mercy and grace, declares repentant sinners righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness and subtitutionary death of Jesus Christ alone. This gift of justification is accessed by the believer through faith alone and is wholly apart from any works. Faith itself is not a work, nor does it contain any merit – rather, faith is merely the empty hands of the sinner laying hold of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ – a righteousness that matches God’s perfect standard of righteousness because it is, in reality, God’s righteousness.

White, in his weighty, passionate, thorough, and nourishing treatment of justification, examines the historical and contemporary significance of a proper and highly nuanced understanding of the doctrine, and provides the exegetical basis for it from key texts like Romans 1-3:18, 3:19-31; 4:1-5:1 and 8:28-34. In the latter portion of the book, White also deals with problems raised in the book of James where some contend that Paul is contradicted by James’ statement that Abraham was justified by works (James 2:14-26). White further bolsters the truth of justification by tapping into other texts like Galatians 1-3, II Corinthians 5:17-21, Titus 3:4-7 and Ephesians 2:1-10, demonstrating the unity of the New Testament regarding this particular doctrine.

Every New Testament text quarried is examined in the original language. For each key text studied, White provides the Greek reading of the text with an English translation following. White often references and discusses Greek words, phrases, and grammar throughout the book as well, so some knowledge of the original language is helpful, though probably not essential. A lay-person who does not have any working knowledge of Biblical Greek will, I believe, also greatly benefit from this book.

The God who Justifies a solid and heart-felt treatment of the glorious—and often neglected—doctrine of justification. It is not a quick read, and it is not an easy read. But the riches mined by a careful, prayerful and thoughtful reading of this book are more than worth it. I highly recommend it.