The Importance of “Christ Alone” (Luther)

Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (recently reprinted by Lexham Press) is an excellent resource to have when studying Matthew 5-7.  The language/translation is a bit dated, but it is outstanding and well worth the effort.  Today I read the following, which I marked up quite a bit:

For if I cling to this, that Christ alone is my righteousness and holiness, no monk will ever persuade or mislead me by his hood, rosary, this or that work and childish human notion. For through faith I am a judge of all imaginable conditions and ways of living, so that I can condemn everything that offers to show me anything else that is to avail before God.

In other words, Luther said that if we understand that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone, we’ll rightly reject and condemn any other way to be right with God.  Luther continued:

But if I neglect this, and let the treasure go, and am instructed to seek elsewhere and otherwise to be pious, to conciliate God and atone for sin, then I am already prepared for all sorts of snares and nets of the devil, and to let myself be led as he pleases; then presently comes someone who preaches to me: ‘If you want to be pious and serve God, then put on a hood, pray daily so many rosaries, burn so many little candles to St. Anna.’  Then I fall in with this like a blind man and everybody’s fool and prisoner, and do everything I am told, so completely that I cannot defend myself from even the most trifling mistake.

If you take away the teaching of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, people will believe and do anything they are told to be accepted by God.  This is a rejection of the gospel.  Therefore we should, following the Apostle Paul’s insistence, clearly preach and firmly believe that we are not justified by works, but through faith alone in Christ alone (Rom 3:28, Gal. 2:16, etc.).

Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, p. 68.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Truth Worth Dividing The Church (Sproul)

Are We Together?: A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Hardcover) At the heart of historic, confessional Reformed teaching and preaching is the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  An essential part of justification sola fide is the truth of imputation.  R. C. Sproul’s words on this doctrine are outstanding and edifying.

“If any word was at the center of the firestorm of the Reformation controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is imputation.  …We cannot really understand what the Reformation was about without understanding the central importance of this concept.”

“…If any statement summarizes and capture the essence of the Reformation view, it is Luther’s famous Latin formula ‘simul justus et peccator.’  ‘Simil’ is the word from which we get the English ‘simultaneous;’ it means ‘at the same time.’  ‘Justus’ is the Latin word for ‘just’ or ‘righteous.’  ‘Et’ simply means ‘and.’  ‘Peccator’ means ‘sinner.’  So, with this formula, – ‘at the same time just and sinner’ – Luther was saying that in our justification, we are at the same time righteous and sinful.  …He was saying that, in one sense, we are just.  In another sense, we are sinners.  In and of ourselves, under God’s scrutiny, we still have sin.  But by God’s imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to our accounts, we are considered just.”

“This is the very heart of the gospel.  In order to get into heaven, will I be judged by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ?  If I have to trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I must completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed.  But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.  The good news is simply this: I can be reconciled to God.  I can be justified, not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what has been accomplished for me by Christ.”

“Of course, Protestantism really teaches a double imputation.  Our sin is imputed to Jesus and his righteousness is imputed to us.  In this twofold transaction, we see that God does not compromise his integrity in providing salvation for his people.  Rather, he punishes sin fully after it has been imputed to Jesus.  This is why he is able to be both ‘just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ as Paul writes in Romans 3:26. So my sin goes to Jesus and his righteousness comes to me.”

“This is a truth worth dividing the church.”

“This is the article on which the church stands or falls, because it is the article on which we all stand or fall.”

When you hear this glorious truth preached on Sunday rejoice and be thankful for the gospel of grace!  If you don’t hear it preached, lovingly talk to your pastor and elders and discuss it.  It’s not a side issue, nor is it a dry doctrine that is impractical for our daily living.  The doctrine of justification sola fide gives us firm comfort, peace, and a grateful heart of obedience to the Lord.

The above Sproul quote is found in Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism (Sanford: Reformation Trust, 2012), 43-4.

(This is a reblog from April 2013)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

No Condemnation (Hodge)

Select Sermons of Charles Hodge Here’s a nice excerpt from a sermon Charles Hodge gave on Romans 8:1 (Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. NASB):

Behold, O Christian the deed of thy inheritance.  …Jesus Christ came down from heaven to seek and save his people, to accomplish the condition on which their salvation was suspended and [say] “It is finished.” For these he has suffered and obeyed. The demands of the holiness and justice of God are completely satisfied. And since Christ has died and God has justified, who is that condemneth? Can Satan their accuser before God effect it? We answer no, because he that died, has risen and standeth at the right hand of God where he maketh intercession for us and he it is whom the Father heareth always. Can our own corruptions condemn us? We answer no because the salvation of Jesus Christ is a salvation from sin, every believer has the promise of the Holy Spirit to abide with him forever, to be in him as a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. The believers’ hold of heaven is not the grasp of his own palsied hand, it is the upholding of the Lord, it is being kept by the mighty power of God through faith unto salvation.

Charles Hodge, “No Condemnation,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The ‘Principle Doctrine’ of Scripture (Olevian)

 One of the lesser known but important early Reformed theologians is Caspar Olevian (d. 1587), who may have had a hand in writing the Heidelberg Catechism.  One of the many Reformed truths Olevian taught is the distinction between law and gospel.  Scott Clark summarizes Olevian’s distinction (I’ve underlined Olevian’s words for clarity):

Law and gospel perform radically different functions in the economy of justification.  It is only from the law that one knows sin and only from the gospel that one knows justification.  It was out of this very commitment that [Olevian] argued that the gospel, not the law, is the ‘principle doctrine’ of the Scriptures.  For the law does not teach ‘how sin, the wrath of God, and eternal death, are removed, but rather the principle life-giving doctrine, by the outpouring of the Spirit of God was, is, and shall be, the promise of the Gospel.’

Indeed, like Luther, Olevian interpreted the entire book of Galatians as being about nothing more than the distinction between law and gospel: ‘The sum of the Epistle is to teach what is that righteousness by which we are able to stand before God, that is to say at it is not from the law, but from the Gospel.’  Likewise, he also read the Epistle to the Romans through the lenses of his law-gospel dichotomy.  At the beginning of the commentary, he made it clear that it was at the heart of his conception of the evangelium (gospel).

Thus the Holy Spirit constantly affirms through Paul that the doctrine of the gospel about the forgiveness of sins and eternal life given freely for the sake of the Son to those who believe, is not in any new way.  But from the beginning of the world Christ was promised with his gospel.  In order that this might be understood the distinction between law and Gospel must be considered.

Olevian wasn’t at odds with Reformed theology when he taught the law-gospel distinction.  Indeed, the law-gospel distinction is a big part of Reformed/Reformation theology!

The above are found on pages 149-150 of Clark’s Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Jesus’ Resurrection and Our Justification (Hodge)

Jesus’ death on the cross is at the center of the Christian faith and at the center of the Christian’s faith.  But when we talk about Christ’s death on the cross, of course we also talk about how he was raised from the dead.  The cross and empty tomb go together; they are inseparable.  Paul says as much about Christ’s humiliation and exultation in Philippians 2:6-11.  Romans 4:25 is also clear on this: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (NIV).  I appreciate how Charles Hodge explained this verse:

His death and his resurrection were both necessary. His death was a satisfaction of divine justice: he “bore our sins in his body on the tree” (see 1 Peter 2:24); that is, he bore the punishment of our sins.

His resurrection was no less necessary. First, it was a proof that his death had been accepted as an expiation for our sins. Had he not risen, it would have been evident that he was not what he claimed to be. We would still be in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17) and therefore still under condemnation. In that case our ransom, instead of being publicly accepted, would have been rejected.

And, secondly, in order to secure the continued benefits of the merits of his sacrifice, he rose from the dead and ascended on high, where he appeared before God for us. He stands at the right hand of God, always making intercession for his people and so securing for them the benefits of his redemption. With a dead Savior, a Savior over whom death had triumphed and held captive, our justification would have remained an impossibility. Since the high priest, under the old economy, not only slayed the victim at the altar but carried the blood into the most holy place and sprinkled it on the mercy-seat, so it was necessary not only that our great High Priest should suffer in the outer court, but that he should pass into heaven to present his righteousness before God for our justification.

Therefore, both as the evidence of the acceptance of his satisfaction on our behalf and as a necessary step to secure the application of the merits of his sacrifice, the resurrection of Christ was absolutely essential, even for our justification [Charles Hodge, Romans, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), Ro 4:25].

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

As The Sun Shines on the Dung Hill (Or: Grace and Works Inconsistent)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston (12 vols.)  Thomas Boston (d. 1732) was a preacher-theologian who clearly preached and taught the gospel truth that a sinner is justified through faith alone apart from works.  God justifies a sinner only by grace, and faith is a God-given instrument that receives God’s free gift of Christ’s righteousness.  In a sermon on Ephesians 1:6, Boston noted that grace is “love and favor freely flowing, without anything in the object to draw it out.”

Later in the sermon Boston explained the way a sinner is accepted by God:

“First, It is “freely.” There is nothing in the sinner himself to procure it, or move God to it (Rom. 3:24), but as the sun shines without hire on the dung-hill, so God accepts sinners of mere grace.”

How is it free?

“It is without respect to any work done by the sinner (Titus 3:5). Grace and works are inconsistent in this matter. Men may render themselves acceptable to men, by some work of theirs, that is profitable or pleasant to them; but no work of ours can render us acceptable to God. It is natural for men to think to gain acceptance with God, by their doing better; and when they have set themselves to do and work for that end, they please themselves that they are accepted. But mistake it not, that way of acceptance is blocked up.”

This is true because:

(1.) All works of ours are excluded from our justification, whereof our acceptance is a part (Rom. 3:20), and faith and works are opposed in that matter (v. 28; Gal. 2:16).
(2.) Our best works are attended with sinful imperfections (Isa. 64:6), and mixed with many evil works (Jam. 3:2). So in them there is ground for God’s loathing and condemning us; how then can we be accepted for what is in itself loathsome and condemnable?
(3.) We can do no good works before we be accepted (John 9:31; Heb. 11:6). The tree must be good, ere [before] the fruit can be so. The person out of Christ can work no works, but dead works (John 15:5), for he is, while so, in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. And what is all that the man can do before he believe and be accepted in Christ, but a parcel of hypocritical works?

You can read this entire excellent sermon in Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Discourses on Prayer, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 11 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1852), 162.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

A Second Justification? (Owen)

In volume five of his Works, John Owen wrote extensively about justification by faith alone.  After giving some Bible-based definitions of faith and justification, Owen brought up the Roman Catholic doctrine of double justification.  Rome teaches that a person’s first justification is based on infused grace, faith, and Christ’s work.  Second justification, for Rome, is the effect of first justification, and it is based on good works and love done according to the infused habit of grace. For example, the Canons of the Council of Trent (VI.10) talk about being “further justified” by good works.

Here’s what Owen had to say about two justifications:

This distinction was coined unto no other end but to bring in confusion into the whole doctrine of the gospel. Justification through the free grace of God, by faith in the blood of Christ, is evacuated by it. Sanctification is turned into a justification, and corrupted by making the fruits of it meritorious. The whole nature of evangelical justification, consisting in the gratuitous pardon of sin and the imputation of righteousness, as the apostle expressly affirms, and the declaration of a believing sinner to be righteous thereon, as the word alone signifies, is utterly defeated by it.

Owen said there is a twofold justification in Scripture: One is justification by works – by perfect, perpetual, and personal obedience to God’s law – but this is impossible because all have sinned.  The other is justification by grace through faith in Christ (the topic of Owen’s book).  These two are distinct, like the law and the gospel are distinct.  Then he wrote,

And these ways of justification are contrary, proceeding on terms directly contradictory, and cannot be made consistent with or subservient one to the other. But… the confounding of them both, by mixing them together, is that which is aimed at in this distinction of a first and second justification. But whatever respects it may have, that justification which we have before God, in his sight through Jesus Christ, is but one, and at once full and complete; and this distinction [of two justifications] is a vain and fond invention.

In fact,

This distinction of two justifications, as used and improved by those of the Roman church, leaves us, indeed, no justification at all.

…Wherefore it is evident, that either the first justification overthrows the second, rendering it needless; or the second destroys the first, by taking away what essentially belongs unto it: we must therefore part with the one or the other, for consistent they are not.

Finally, echoing the Westminster Confession of Faith XI.5, Owen mentions that those whom God has justified can never fall from the state of justification:

“It is God that justifieth;” and, therefore, the continuation of our justification is his act also. And this, on his part, depends on the immutability of his counsel; the unchangeableness of the everlasting covenant, which is “ordered in all things, and sure;” the faithfulness of his promises; the efficacy of his grace; his complacency in the propitiation of Christ; with the power of his intercession, and the irrevocable grant of the Holy Ghost unto them that do believe.

There’s more to Owen’s discussion, for sure; these are some parts I highlighted.  It is an outstanding defense of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone – and not at all by any of our works.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), chapter five.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI