Justifying Faith: Receiving Christ (Owen)

When the Westminster Confession explains justifying faith, it uses the term “receiving.”  Here’s chapter XI.2: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification…” (emphasis mine).  The Heidelberg Catechism also uses this word in answer 30: “For either Jesus is not a complete Savior, or they who by true faith receive this Savior must have in him all that is necessary to their salvation” (emphasis mine).  Are there biblical reasons to use the phrase “receiving Christ” when talking about faith?  Yes, for sure!  Here’s how John Owen nicely explained it:

That faith whereby we are justified is most frequently in the New Testament expressed by receiving…  First, That it is so expressed with respect unto the whole object of faith, or unto all that does any way concur unto our justification; for we are said to receive Christ himself: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” John 1:12; “As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Col. 2:6.  In opposition hereunto unbelief is expressed by not receiving of him, John 1:11, 3:11, 12:48, 14:17.

And it is a receiving of Christ as he is “The Lord our Righteousness,” as of God he is made righteousness unto us. And as no grace, no duty, can have any co-operation with faith herein — this reception of Christ not belonging unto their nature, nor comprised in their exercise — so it excludes any other righteousness from our justification but that of Christ alone; for we are “justified by faith.”

Faith alone receiveth Christ; and what it receives is the cause of our justification, whereon we become the sons of God. So we “receive the atonement” made by the blood of Christ, Rom. 5:11; for “God hath set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” And this receiving of the atonement includes the soul’s approbation of the way of salvation by the blood of Christ, and the appropriation of the atonement made thereby unto our own souls. For thereby also we receive the forgiveness of sins: “That they may receive forgiveness of sins …… by faith that is in me,” Acts 26:18. In receiving Christ we receive the atonement; and in the atonement we receive the forgiveness of sins. But, moreover, the grace of God, and righteousness itself, as the efficient and material cause of our justification, are received also; even the “abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness,” Rom. 5:17.

So that faith, with respect unto all the causes of justification, is expressed by “receiving;” for it also receiveth the promise, the instrumental cause on the part of God thereof, Acts 2:41; Heb. 9:15.

John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 291–292.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Receiving” in Article IV of The Apology of the Augsburg Confession

Article IV of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531) uses the terms “receive” or “received” (etc.) well over thirty times (I lost count!). This is very significant because Article IV is on justification sola fide. I don’t have time and space to explain all the details here and now, but this article uses the terms “receive” or “receives” so many times because it is echoing Scripture’s truth that a sinner is justified by faith alone in Christ alone, not by works. In other words, faith receives a gift: God’s mercy, forgiveness, and the righteousness of Christ. Faith is not a work that God rewards with justification now or in the future. Justifying faith doesn’t give anything to God, it receives from him. Faith is the open hand of a beggar receiving a blessing from God. Here are just a few examples of how Article IV uses the “receive” words (I’ve emphasized them in bold):

“Faith justifies and saves, not because it is a worthy work in itself, but only because it receives the promised mercy.”

“By faith alone in Christ – not through love, not because of love of works – we receive the forgiveness of sins, although love follows faith.”

“…A promise cannot be received except by faith alone.”

“…We receive Christ’s benefits by this [faith] alone.”

“Because faith receives forgiveness of sins and reconciles us to God, we are <like Abraham> counted as righteous for Christ’s sake before we love and before we do the works of the Law, although love necessarily follows.”

There is obviously more to the discussion. I just wanted to point out a great emphasis in the Apology that I thought was helpful and edifying!

The above quotes were taken from Article IV of the Apology in Concordia.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Excluding Our Righteousness (Buchanan)

James Buchanan Collection (2 vols.) When it comes to justification, the terms “the righteousness of God” and “his righteousness” are very important (Rom 3:21-22, 2 Cor 5:21, etc.).  These phrases have to do with the fact that an ungodly sinner is not justified by his own righteousness, but by the righteousness of Another that is given by grace alone and received by faith alone.  James Buchanan explained this well (I’ve divided the paragraphs to make it easier to read):

…This righteousness is called ‘the righteousness of One,’ and ‘the obedience of One’—expressions which serve at once to connect it with the work of Christ, and to exclude from it the personal obedience of the many who are justified.

It is called ‘the free gift unto justification of life,’ and ‘the gift of righteousness,’ to show that it is bestowed gratuitously by divine grace, and not acquired by our own obedience.

It is called ‘the righteousness which is of faith,’ or ‘the righteousness which is by faith,’ both to distinguish it from faith itself, and also to contrast it with another righteousness which is not received by faith, but ‘sought for as it were by the works of the law.’

It is called ‘the righteousness of God without the law,’ to intimate that, while it was ‘witnessed by the law and the prophets,’ and while, as ‘a righteousness,’ it must have some relation to the unchangeable rule of rectitude, it was above and beyond what the law could provide, since it depends, not on personal, but on vicarious obedience.

And it is called the righteousness ‘which God imputes without works,’ to show that it is ‘reckoned of grace,’ and not ‘of debt,’—that ‘God justifies the ungodly’2 by placing this righteousness to their account,—and that He makes it theirs, because it was wrought out for them by Him, ‘who was delivered for their offences, and rose again for their Justification.’

All these expressions relate to one and the same righteousness—the only righteousness which God has revealed for the justification of sinners — they are all applicable to the vicarious righteousness of Christ — and they serve, by their very diversity, to exhibit it in all its various aspects and relations, and to exclude every other righteousness from the ground of our pardon and acceptance, since there is no other to which all these terms can possibly be applied.

In the next section, Buchanan moves on to prove this related point:

This righteousness —being the merit of a work, and not a mere quality of character —may become ours by being imputed to us, but cannot be communicated by being infused; and must ever continue to belong primarily and, in one important respect, exclusively to Him by whom alone that work was accomplished.

James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867), 319–320.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justification and Double Imputation

Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine Romans 5:19 and 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 are two places in Scripture that teach the twin truths of justification and double imputation: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” “…He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASB).  After discussing these passages in some detail, John Fesko writes this in summary:

“In these two passages we see the inextricable link between justification and double imputation.  God does not simply write off sin when he forgives the believer. Rather, God imputes the sin and guilt of the believer to Christ, who has borne the penalty for that sin and guilt upon the cross.  At the same time God imputes the righteousness and perfect obedience of Christ to the believer.  Sever either the remission of sins or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the sinner stands inextricably in a quandary, as the sinner requires not only the forgiveness of sins but also the righteousness and obedience of Christ. If the believer receives only the remission of sins, then justification would not be possible, as God would have to postpone his judgment to await the outcome, to wait and see whether the void of sin would be filled by obedience.”

This, however is not the nature of our justification because when God eliminates our sin he fills the void with the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, and right then and there the believer, like Abraham, is counted righteous, and indefectibly so because God has imputed the righteousness of Christ to the believer.  This means that the historic Reformed expressions of justification by faith alone are correct.”

John Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (Phillipsburg; P&R, 2008), p 204-205.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Justified By Faith(fulness)??

 (This is a slightly edited repost from August, 2008)

Today, many people like to talk about a “living faith” or a “faithful faith” or “obedient faith” which justifies.  Though some of these terms may be new, this discussion is not.  The Reformers rejected this type of language when they clearly taught (echoing Scripture) that a sinner is justified by faith alone, or apart from works (Rom. 3:28).   Horatius Bonar said it well:

“Faith may seem a slight thing to some; and they may wonder how salvation can flow from [simply] believing.  Hence they try to magnify it, to adore it, to add to it, in order that it may appear some great thing, something worthy of having salvation as its reward.  In doing so, they are actually transforming faith into a work, and introducing salvation by works under the name of faith.  They show that they understand neither the nature nor the office of faith.”

“Faith saves, simply by handing us over to the Savior.  It saves, not on account of the good works which flow from it; not on account of the love which kindles it; not on account of the repentance which it produces; but solely because it connects us with the Saving One.  Its saving efficacy does not lie in its connection with [our] righteousness and holiness, but entirely in its connection with the Righteous and Holy One.”

Quotes from Horatius Bonar, The Blood of the Cross (New Ipswich: Pietan Publications, 1997), 59.   NOTE: the Kindle version of this book is only $.99.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Faith Must Not Be Built Upon Works

The Beatitudes Thomas Watson  (d. 1686) is one of my favorite Puritan authors.  He wrote clearly, concisely, and biblically. Here’s one great example from his discussion of faith and works in The Beatitudes.

Julian [a Roman emperor who renounced Christianity when he became emperor) upbraided the Christians that they were Solifidians, and the Church of Rome lays upon us this aspersion, that we are against good works.  Indeed we plead not for the merit of them but we are for the use of them.  ‘Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses’ (Titus 3:14).  We preach that they are needful both as they are enforced by the precept and as they are needful for the general good of men.”

“…This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.’ (Titus 3:8). …Faith alone justifies but justifying faith is not alone.  You may as well separate weight from lead or heat from fire as works from faith.  Good works, though they are not the causes of salvation, yet they are evidences.  Though they are not the foundation yet they are the superstructure.  Faith must not be built upon works, but works must be built upon faith. …Faith is the grace which marries Christ and good works are the children which faith bears.”

Similarly, the Westminster Confession says (16.2):

“These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith.”

(The above quote by Thomas Watson is found in The Beatitudes, p. 155-156.)

shane lems

The Glory and Comfort of Free Justification

Our Reasonable Faith These are some comforting words on justification sola fide:

“The benefit of justification through faith alone has in it a rich comfort for the Christian.  The forgiveness of his sins, the hope for the future, [and] the certainty concerning eternal salvation do not depend upon the degree of holiness which he has achieved in life, but are firmly rooted in the grace of God and in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“If these benefits had to derive their certainty from the good works of the Christian they would always, even unto death, remain unsure, for even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.  Accordingly, believers would be constantly torn between fear and anxiety, they could never stand in the freedom with which Christ has set them free, and, nevertheless being unable to live without certainty, they would have to take recourse to church and priest, to altar and sacrament, to religious rites and practices.  Such indeed is the condition of thousands of Christians both inside and outside of the Roman church.  They do not understand the glory and the comfort of free justification.”

“But the believer whose eye has been opened to the riches of this benefit, sees the matter differently.  He has come to the humble acknowledgement of good works, whether these consist of emotional excitements, of soul experiences, or of external deeds, can never be the foundation but only the fruit of faith.  His salvation is fixed outside of himself in Christ Jesus and his righteousness, and therefore can never again waver.  His house is built upon the rock, and therefore it can stand the vehemence of the rain, the floods, and the winds” (p. 465-6).

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith.

shane lems