A Primer on Justification: Part 9

Devotionals > A Primer on Justification: Part 9

A Primer on Justification: Part 9

October 31, 2016


photo-1431444393712-19267bd26144This article is the ninth in a ten-part series by Dr. Ryken that we are gradually making available. Find the other articles: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part. 7 and Part 8.

  The Goal of Justification It is sometimes thought that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is contradicted by the apostle James. After all, James contended that “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). What James is really saying, however, is something like this: “A person is proven to be justified by his works, and not merely by his faith.” Unlike Paul—who needed to oppose the popular notion that sinners can be saved by good works—James was combating the misconception that believers can dispense with works altogether. To put the difference between them in theological terms, Paul was dealing with people who wanted to make sanctification part of the basis for their justification, whereas James was dealing with people who wanted to be justified without being sanctified! For James, as well as for Paul, “to justify” means “to declare righteous.” The difference is that in Paul’s case it is God who declares the believer righteous, whereas in James’s case it is the believer’s works which declare him righteous by proving his faith to be genuine. Both apostles would agree with Calvin that “it is faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.”1 Faith and works do not together produce justification (faith + works >> justification); rather, faith justifies and produces good works (faith>> justification + works). To express this in yet another way, the faith that alone justifies is a faith that works. This explains why The Gospel Coalition ends its statement on justification by saying, “We believe that a zeal for personal and public obedience flows from this free justification.” The true biblical doctrine of justification is not opposed to good works, but in fact produces them. Our justification is vitally connected to our sanctification. As far as justification itself is concerned, Christ’s work and our works are mutually exclusive. As Paul says in Galatians: “a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 2:16). Justification thus comes by trusting rather than by working: “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). Where justification is concerned, the Bible sets faith and works in opposition to one another. If justification is by faith, then it is not by works. By ruling out works in this way, the Bible is really saying that justification is by faith alone. Of the very nature of the case, if justification is not by works, then it must come only by faith, or “faith alone.” There is a very important reason or this—a reason that helps us to understand the purpose of our justification in the plan of God. If justification is comes only by faith, then the biblical way of justification ensures that all of the glory goes to God alone. If we are justified by the saving work of Jesus rather than by our own work, then all of the praise for our salvation goes to him and not to us. Thus the goal of justification—like every other aspect of the gospel—is the glory of God.   Footnotes:

1 John Calvin, “Antidote to the Canons of the Council of Trent,” in Tracts and Treatises in Defense of the Reformed Faith, trans. by Henry Beveridge (1851; repr. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958), 3:152.

2Dr. Philip Ryken serves as the president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.]]>


Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.


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