Justifying Faith

The Christian's Reasonable Service, 4 VolsHere’s a great (and clear!) snapshot of the classic Reformed description of the essence of justifying faith – first, by way of negative, then positive.

Faith does not consist in love…love is not the essence of faith.”

Faith does not consist in obedience to and observance of God’s commandments.  Yes, in the matter of justification, works and faith are contrasted with each other.”

Rather, we understand” that saving faith is “the outgoing [extraspective] act of the heart whereby one, in surrendering to Christ and receiving him, entrusts soul and body to him in order that he would save him.”  [Quotes from Wilhelmus a’ Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, p. 277-8.]

Good stuff.  Brakel is just saying what the Reformation so loudly preached: sola fide!  We’re not justified by obedient faith, we’re not justified by faithfulness, we’re not justified by faith working through love.  We can’t say “faith-alone-fulness” or anything like that.

Instead, we say with the Heidelberg that 1) I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and my very conscience accuses me of it, 2) I am still inclined toward all evil, and 3) My faith has no value before God in justification.  Nevertheless, despite the fact that I don’t deserve it, by grace alone, God imputes to me Christ’s perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness as if I had never sinned and as if I had been as obedient as Christ was obedient for me (Q/A 60-61).

The very nature of justifying faith repudiates all works, decency, merits, love, righteousness, and obedience.  Instead, faith looks (with knowledge, conviction, and assurance) to someone else for these things: Jesus Christ and all his merits.  HC: I can receive Christ’s righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone. Again, to be overly redundant on purpose, let me quote the Belgic Confession: even works that proceed from the good root of faith “are of no account towards our justification”; we are “justified even before we do good works” (Article 24).

Paul is the most shocking and clear: God justifies the ungodly (Rom 4.5).  Without this staggering truth, we’d be doomed.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

5 thoughts on “Justifying Faith”

  1. Thanks Shane for drawing attention to a neglected work by a wonderful pastor-scholar. Joel Beeke and Reformation Heritage Books have put all of us in their debt for such a wonderful reprint.


  2. Man a livin’ . . . every time I hear more quotes from this guy, I realize more and more that I just need to carve out a few bucks to pick up these volumes!

    I just had a conversation in the last few days about the RCC and the gospel . . . it is really strange how hard it is to *really* convince some evangelicals of the problem with Rome when they themselves are quite comfortable with adding love or faithfulness or “trying hard enough” to faith. Granted they end up saying that God will always forgive, but there is just this need for personal piety as part of the grounds for justification. Argh! The catechism – and Paul for that matter – is so clear!

    I know I sound like a broken record here and, Lord willing, I will for the remainder of my pilgrim journey, but confoundit, it is the gospel of free acceptance in Christ that makes me strive with all my being to live a grateful life! Not hope of rewards, not fear of punishment, GRATITUDE ALONE!!! Perhaps that should be the 6th sola!

    Ok . . . I’ll stop babbling now.


  3. This is THE point that is the focus our the differences that seperates Confessional Reformed theology from the devient views of Norman Shepherd and his followers in the Federal Vision as well as the Baxterism of N.T. Wright.


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