In his excellent treatment of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, Cornelis Venema interacts with the new perspectives on Paul. But before doing so, he nicely explains the Reformation view of justification sola fide which the Reformers derived from Scripture:
“The Reformers’ insistence that believers are justified by faith alone was an obvious corollary of their insistence that justification is a free gift of God’s grace in Christ. If it is a free gift, which is based upon the righteousness of Christ graciously granted and imputed to believers, then it most emphatically is not by works. ‘Grace alone,’ ‘Christ alone,’ and ‘faith alone’ are corollary expressions; to say the one is to imply the others.”
“If we are saved by grace alone, then works must be excluded as a necessary precondition for our being accepted into favor with God. If we are saved by the person and work of Christ alone, then nothing we do before God in obedience to the law could possibly complete or compensate for anything supposedly lacking in Christ. This is precisely what the term ‘faith alone’ asserts. It excludes from view every possible form of human work or achievement as the meritorious cause of God’s favor towards sinners.”
In other words, it is not our faithfulness that justifies; we are not declared righteous by a working faith or by obeying the gospel. Nothing we do before we are converted, during our conversion, or after our conversion counts in our justification. We are justified by faith only apart from all our works (Rom. 3:28). Not even our faith is the grounds of or basis for our justification; faith is an instrument that receives a gift. Venema notes that we are justified ‘through’ faith, not ‘on account of faith’ (per fidem sed non propter fidem).
This isn’t just theological nitpicking. If we muddle this and put our works in the mix of justification, we are 1) saying grace is no longer grace, 2) declaring that Christ’s work isn’t perfectly sufficient, 3) denying clear NT teaching, 4) opening the door to pride, and 5) robbing the Christian’s assurance in Christ (among other things). So justification by faith alone is a biblical doctrine worth teaching and defending even in the face of stiff opposition!
The above quotes and notes are found in chapter 2 of Cornelis Venema’s book, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ.
Covenant Presbyterian Church