Monday, September 24, 2007

A Few Good Men? No Not Even One: How to approach justification by faith alone

Whenever we approach a doctrine taught in Scripture it is important that we think about how we ought to approach it. And a weighty matter like justification is not something that we are at liberty to look upon in a detached way. After all, whether we like it or not, we are involved in it. The doctrine of justification sola fide presupposes the guilt of sin, and as we are sinners we are best off approaching it with a due recognition of our guilt coram Deo (before God).

With the kind of omnipresence that television has mediated to us we have far more access and insight into court proceedings than would ever normally have been the case. And we are accustomed, well at least most of us, to being passive onlookers in judicial matters. However, as we come to the doctrine of justification we are taught from the moment that this truth impresses itself on our consciousness that we are actively involved as those belonging to the guilty party before God's judgment throne.

Our connection with Adam, our actual sins for which we are culpable and without excuse, and "the story we find our selves in" which will end with an appearance on the day of judgment before the God who will repay us according to what we have done, are all intended to quicken our minds and consciences so that we will take justification to be the urgent and pressing matter for us that it really is.

As we consider this doctrine of justification recognizing that we are sinners JohnOwen wrote that the inquiry really is:
What that is upon the account of whereof God pardoneth all their sins, receiveth them into his favour, declareth or pronounceth them righteous and acquitted from all guilt, removes the curse, and turneth away all his wrath from them, giving them right and title unto a blessed immortality or eternal life?
Owen lays out in the introduction of his work on justification the basic issues and choices facing us:
Whether it be any thing in ourselves as our faith and repentance, the renovation of our natures, inherent habits of grace, and actual works of righteousness which we have done, or may do? Or whether it be the obedience, righteousness, satisfaction, and merit of the Son of God our mediator, and surety of the covenant, imputed unto us?
One of these it must be, --namely, something that is our own, which, whatever may be the influence of the grace of God unto it, or causality of it, because wrought in and by us, is inherently our own in a proper sense; or something which, being not our own, not inherent in us, nor wrought by us, is yet imputed unto us, for the pardon of our sins and the acceptation of our persons as righteous, or the making of us righteous in the sight of God.
Neither are these things capable of mixture or composition, Rom. xi. 6. Which of these it is the duty, wisdom, and safety of a convinced sinner to rely upon and trust unto, in his appearance before God is the sum of our present inquiry.
John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, p. 8-9

With all the current interest in and controversy over justification in the academy and the Church, Owen's recently republished work (with an introductory essay by Carl R. Trueman) is well worth picking up and reading.

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