Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Justification By Faith...Alone?

Justification is the article by which the church stands or falls.
~attributed to Martin Luther 

Christian theological discussions and debates quite often boil down to this: The doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (aka “justification by faith”). Unfortunately, many such dialogues produce more heat than light (thus evidencing that we are certainly saved by grace alone). 

To illustrate: How are the following sentiments helpful? 

Is Arminianism a damnable heresy? Yes. . . . Are pastors who teach Arminianism damnable heretics who are not Christians and who will certainly go to hell? Ultimately, this is up to God to decide . . . It would seem to be very difficult, if not impossible, to be trusting in Jesus Christ alone if you hold to [Arminian doctrine].

The false Gospel of the TULIP turns the Good News of Christ into a bad news. . . . The TULIP gospel does not say that God loved the world. So it is a false gospel. . . . The TULIP gospel which comes to you in the form of 'Doctrines of Grace' is indeed a very ungracious Gospel . . . the TULIP gospel of calvinism [sic] is a false gospel.

Should we automatically anathematize those who understand the doctrine of justification by faith somewhat differently from us? I don’t think we should—not if we truly believe the doctrine. 

(For those whose heads remain unexploded, let me explain.) 

There is a difference between the doctrine of justification by faith alone and being justified by faith alone. But I fear we commonly fail to make this distinction. As soon as we begin to interject our “yeah buts” into the conversation, we are in danger of conflating the two. 

Yeah…he says he believes in Jesus BUT he denies free-will…his “god” is the devil of Calvinism 

Or, 

Yeah…she says she’s saved by grace alone BUT she thinks her faith preceded her “regeneration.”  

Consider. Is repentance from sin and trust in the Christ of scripture—that He was the divine, sinless Son of God incarnate who died for sinners and rose again from the dead—sufficient to save?  

Are we in fact saved by faith alone?  

Please understand this is not a call to a minimalist view of faith. Nor is it my intention to downplay the importance of doctrine or to compromise theological distinctives. I am simply contending that if we are indeed justified by faith alone, we should not damn those who repent of sins and believe in Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior on the sole basis of doctrinal disagreement or imprecision. 

It’s not doctrine alone, but faith alone.

21 comments:

  1. I think the distinction between a doctrine we believe and a real belief in the person of Jesus Christ is a fine but legitimate one. We are apt to view incorrect doctrine as the real test of a person's salvation. Ultimately it is God's right to decide and he seems to have a broader definition of what we have to believe than many of us. Perhaps that is something to be really thankful for.

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    1. Thank you for reading and thinking, brother.

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  2. Just shared your post on my blog. I enjoyed it.

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    1. Thanks for reading, thinking, and sharing.

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  3. I am confused? Faith alone? So if Mormons have the wrong Jesus, is their faith valid? Obviously not. Will we call it faith alone if someone is a female homosexual pastor? I hope not. So when we come to "Christ alone". The question becomes do Arminians present the same Father, the same Son, the same Holy Spirit, the same grace? John Owen would no deny that they had faith, but ultimately their faith is in themselves. All the lip service to theological terms like saved by grace, will be shown to be no more valid than the same misuse of terms by those is Rome or Joseph Smith. Erasmus had a faith, and Luther and strong words of doubt to his salvation. John Owen's work "Display of Arminianism" is candid too. People say that today's Arminians are completely different than in Owen's day; and in my opinion, the difference is only in how crafty they are to bury their heresy. Yes, the H word cannot be used too quickly. All men have faith, even atheists place faith in their minds. I fear Arminians ultimately place faith in their faith at the end of the day.

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    1. Yes, I think you're confused.

      I am quite clear concerning the faith of which I speak. From the article: "Is repentance from sin and trust in the Christ of scripture—that He was the divine, sinless Son of God incarnate who died for sinners and rose again from the dead—sufficient to save?"

      What do "Mormons" and a "homosexual pastor" have to do with
      repentance and trust in the Christ of scripture? (I honestly don't know how you made the GIANT leap from my article to Mormons and homosexual pastors!)

      At any rate....I side with Spurgeon on this issue.

      He writes:

      "But far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. . . .

      "I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour [sic], and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven."

      Thanks for reading and thinking.

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    2. From Mr Wesley:

      I do not believe (what is only preterition or reprobation in other words) any such absolute election, as implies that all but the absolutely elect shall inevitably be damned. I do not believe the doctrine of irresistible grace, or of infallible perseverance; because both the one and the other implies that election which cannot stand without preterition or reprobation. (Works, 10:379)

      I... defy any man living, who asserts the unconditional decree of reprobation or preterition, (just the same in effect,) to reconcile this with the scriptural doctrine of a future judgment. I say again, I defy any man on earth to show, how, on this scheme, God can "judge the world in righteousness." (10:374)

      The doctrine of absolute predestination naturally leads to the chambers of death. (10:258)

      Q. 74. What is the direct antidote to Methodism, the doctrine of heart-holiness? A. Calvinism: All the devices of Satan, for these fifty years, have done far less toward stopping this work of God, than that single doctrine. It strikes at the root of salvation from sin, previous to glory, putting the matter on quite another issue. ... Be diligent to prevent them, and to guard these tender minds against the predestinarian poison. (8:336)

      This, then, is a plain proof that the doctrine of predestination is not of God, because it makes void the ordinance of God; and God is not divided against himself. A Second is, that it directly tends to destroy holiness which is the end of all the ordinances of God. ... the doctrine itself, - that every man is either elected or not elected from eternity, and that the one must inevitably be saved, and the other inevitably damned, - has a manifest tendency to destroy holiness in general; for it wholly takes away those first motives to follow after it, so frequently proposed in Scripture, the hope of future reward and fear of punishment, the hope of heaven and fear of hell... this doctrine not only tends to destroy Christian holiness, happiness, and good works, but hath also a direct and manifest tendency to overthrow the whole Christian Revelation... it is a doctrine full of blasphemy... This is the blasphemy for which (however I love the persons who assert it) I abhor the doctrine of predestination ... Sing, O hell, and rejoice, ye that are under the earth! For God, even the mighty God, hath spoken, and devoted to death thousands of souls, from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof! Here, O death, is thy sting! They shall not, cannot escape; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Here, O grave, is thy victory! Nations yet unborn, or ever they have done good or evil, are doomed never to see the light of life, but thou shalt gnaw on them for ever and ever! (7:376-384)

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  4. Allow me to take a short-cut:
    It is God alone who justifies (I suppose no believer will disagree with that).
    God is also the One Who gives faith (here the spirits scatter).
    But, I would think that there are people who differ from us as TULIP-'protagonist' believers who will be saved one day,
    simply because it is not about a person's intellectual formulation or even wholesome-total 'correct' understanding of a particular doctrine that saves,
    But God's work in the heart.
    Which is often hidden from us mortals.

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    1. Yes.

      Thanks for reading and thinking, brother.

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    2. But, Mr Morkel,

      Doesn't "God's work in the heart" give his elect a right understanding of Christ and the good news?

      Doesn't this involve "a person's intellectual formulation"?

      While it may not lead to a "wholesome-total 'correct' understanding of a particular doctrine" (some doctrines), are there not some particular doctrines indispensible to salvation?

      And isn't the Lord's work in one's heart, "which is often hidden from us mortals," revealed at least in part by the fruits of one's life? In Matt. 7, our Lord said we'd know/ distinguish between false and true professors by such evidences.

      Thank you.

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  5. Thanks for your thought-provoking question & blog entry, Pastor.

    Of course, the gospel is not merely "that [Jesus] was the divine, sinless Son of God incarnate who died for sinners and rose again from the dead," for all professing Christians confess this. The Apostles & Nicene creeds are really insufficient.

    "...the Gospel concerns the perfect work of God in Jesus Christ. Unless we are preaching a work of perfection in Jesus Christ, we are not preaching the Gospel."

    "The second important aspect is that the Gospel is information about the perfect work of God in Jesus Christ. ...'there is no other name under Heaven by which we must be saved.' The Gospel is information about the only Saviour, the only mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. The Gospel is exclusive."

    "The third important aspect is that the Gospel is information about God’s perfect work in Jesus Christ for his people... The Gospel is not the message, 'God loves everyone,' for God does not love everyone..."

    From, "What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" by John Robbins.

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    1. While I am Reformed/Calvinistic in my theology, I think you and I are disagreed on this issue. (As I stated previously, I side with Spurgeon on this.)

      For example, I believe one can have genuine saving faith and not come to the understanding that regeneration precedes faith or that Christ died for the elect only.

      I see no biblical warrant to damn all non-Reformed Christians to hell, to insist only a full-orbed Calvinism can save. We are justified by faith alone in the Christ of scripture, not doctrinal precision.

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    2. "I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour [sic], and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven." ~CH Spurgeon

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    4. Steve, I wonder at this: "there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour" - Hmm... Which truths, exactly?

      That God chooses to save whom he will, irrespective of their works or foreseen faith?

      That man is dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to decide to be born again?

      That Christ died & rose again to save his people from their sins?

      That God the Holy Spirit cannot be thwarted by sinful men?

      That those for whom Christ died ARE truly redeemed and WILL persevere in true faith?

      Those who affirm the opposite of these glorious biblical teachings are lying and deceiving others. False teachers teach against these things.

      It needs to be asked: How deceived can one be, and yet be saved?

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    5. And I maintain that we cannot know for certain that "one can have genuine saving faith and not come to the understanding that regeneration precedes faith or that Christ died for the elect only."

      Those knowingly denying these (and/ or denying JBFA) are pretty certainly unregenerate.

      Those ignorant of JBFA just need some catechesis! :)

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    6. "It needs to be asked: How deceived can one be, and yet be saved?"

      I've wondered this many times myself. (You seem to lean towards "not at all.") :)

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    7. "I maintain that we cannot know for certain that 'one can have genuine saving faith and not come to the understanding that regeneration precedes faith or that Christ died for the elect only.'"

      Indeed. I maintain that we "cannot know for certain" that one is saved who DOES have such understandings.

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  6. DOES GOD ARBITRARILY BESTOW FAITH? BY STEVE FINNELL

    Many believe that Ephesians 2:8 teaches that God arbitrarily bestows faith on a selected few so they can believe and be saved. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.(NKJV)

    Salvation is the gift of God, not faith. The gift God gives is forgiveness from sin.

    How do men receive faith?

    Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.(NKJV)

    Faith comes from hearing the gospel preached. Faith is not arbitrarily dispatched to a chosen few.

    Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greeks,

    Salvation is attained by believing the gospel. Salvation is not predetermined by God and forced on a select few by forcing them to have faith and be saved.

    1 Corinthians 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God , it pleased God through the foolishness of the messaged preached to save those who believe.(NKJV)

    God saves men through preaching the gospel. God does not preselect men and the force them to have faith so they will be saved.

    John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but that the wrath of God abides on him."(NKJV)

    If God imputes faith to all who believe, why would those who do not believe receive the wrath of God. Non-believers would have no responsibility nor capability to believed and be saved.

    1 John 3:20-23....And this is His commandment: that we we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.(NKJV)

    Why would God command us to believe on His Son Jesus Christ if we are not capable of believing? Does He arbitrarily bestows that faith on non-believers?

    Jesus said "He who believes and is baptized will be saved.."(Mark 16:16) Jesus did not say God will give you the gift of faith so you can believe, be baptized and be saved.

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

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