My last post was a sort of rough draft for an article on “The Christian Mind” I was about to embark on…hopefully the article itself will be a better piece of work than my last hastily-developed post I chose to afflict my readers with…. But, for today, I want to briefly mention the importance of justification in the underpinnings of the Christian mind.
Before I get started with that, though, I want to note that the foundational principle upon which the Christian mind operates is the humanly unavoidable assumption that God is. After all, that is His Name, is it not? He is “I Am”. And the “I Am” is our holy Creator. Because He is holy, He is just. Because He is free and merciful, He chose a people for Himself. Because He is Triune, He is both just and the justifier of His elect.
With that said, justification was central in the controversies of the Reformation–for a good reason. Because everything else in theology eventually effects this doctrine of salvation through Christ alone, the Reformers wrangled with the Roman Church and with one another about the divine authority of Scripture alone, the authority, structure, and place of the church in the life of believers, the sanctification of believers, the nature and number of the sacraments, politics, work, holy days, etc. etc. The acceptance or denial of the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith, through the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, determines one’s interpretation of Scripture on all of the other subjects we deal with daily. Even if the technical terms never cross our minds, we deal with the components and presuppositions of these different facets of doctrine every time we hear the news, have a conversation with someone, or let our thoughts wander–yes, whether we have a true or erroneous idea of justification has bearing on each of these daily activities.
That any one idea can penetrate so deeply into our persons sounds kind of far-fetched–until the wide impact of justification in Christ alone is examined a little more thoroughly. Here are some random applications that come immediately to mind: Because Christ has redeemed me, I am free to admit that I am what I am, a sinner brought into the His presence by his mercy alone and being sanctified by His Spirit alone, without threatening my assurance of salvation. Because the righteousness of Christ covers me, I am in the invisible Church of Christ–therefore, I seek to be a faithful member of a visible congregation in which He is honored. Because I have been given new life and faith that I might receive Christ, I am under obligation to live as that new person every day–“whatever is not from faith is sin.” Christ has fulfilled the law for me, so that nothing I do can either increase or diminish my merit before God–how I hold my head or what kind of music I will or won’t listen to does not make me a better Christian than somebody else. (These things are outworkings of my level of understanding of the holiness to which we are called and of my degree of dependence on the Scriptures as truth–but they have no effect whatsoever on my justification.) And the list can go on…but my day is going on, too, so I won’t drag this out much longer….
The reason that I bring this topic up at this time is twofold: first, it is Reformation Day today; secondly, the doctrine of justification is under fire today–and not just from outside the church–not just from Arminianism–not just from Romanism–not just from Neo-Orthodoxy and existential theology–but from within the Reformed community itself. A warped view of justification is changing the lives of many who believe that Reformed is not enough…forgetting that the central tenant of “Reformed” in the past has been that Christ’s obedience and sacrifice alone is sufficient for our salvation. By introducing human works into the Christian life as integral pieces of the puzzle completing our justification, the Federal Vision is corrupting the rest of Scriptural doctrine, as well as frustrating Christian’s lives by teaching them to seek to produce fruit on their own for God. And we know that the only fruit that God accepts is the fruit of the Spirit, the things done in faith, not by faithfulness. Yes, the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone that the Reformers fought for is a sure bastion in the Christian life, which, when trusted, truly frees one to live as a redeemed child of God–not as a self-made son.