Sunday, July 11, 2010

Justification by Faith

The famous battle cry of Martin Luther - "Justification by faith alone!"  Although Calvin has hinted at it greatly so far, he decided that this was the point in The Institutes to dedicate some pages to it.  He writes a beautiful overview of the doctrine to start off.  "Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith.  By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ's spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life."  A few sentences later he adds, "faith, through which alone we obtain free righteousness by the mercy of God."  It is a free gift of God.  We can in no way earn faith or mercy.  It is essential that we rely wholly on God's grace for our salvation, not God's grace plus our works.

Calvin illustrates the concept of justification for his readers.  If someone is standing before a judge, he is considered "justified" if he is blameless.  Calvin even highlights that a "fair" judge (like God) will find an innocent man justified.  There are two ways to be justified before God.  The first is to live a perfect, sinless life.  Those of us who cannot live a perfect life must rely on the righteousness of Christ through faith.  Only then will we be seen as righteous before the Judge.  "Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men.  And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ's righteousness."

Next, we read a number of Scripture passages that speak of justification.  One verse was Galatians 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed.'"  God is the one who justifies us through faith.  Another verse was Romans 3:26b, "that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."  Once again it is God who justifies, not us who bring about our own righteousness.  Calvin writes that "'to justify' means nothing else than to acquit of guilt him who was accused, as if his innocence were confirmed."  It is like we are blameless when we are before God, but only because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ - not our own.

Several more passages are highlighted where Calvin demonstrates that other words are used to mean justification.  For instance, Ephesians 1:5-6 reads: "having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved."  The word "accepted" refers to justification here.  In Romans 4, the word "imputed" is used a number of times.  Paul is speaking of justification as the "imputation of righteousness."  In other places Calvin shows that justification is also the reconciliation of us to our Father.

Calvin then spends the next 8 sections (so we will continue looking at this tomorrow) arguing against the misunderstandings of Osiander's doctrine of "essential righteousness."  He argues that Osiander's error comes from a misunderstanding of the bond of our union with Christ in the secret power of His Spirit.  Osiander goes beyond the righteousness that Christ has given us through His obedience on the cross.  Instead, he claims that we become righteous before God through the infusion of Christ's essence and His quality into our being.  Osiander continues in his error by confusing forgiveness of sins with rebirth.  He believed that somehow God transforms our vices into righteousness.  Calvin agrees that righteousness and sanctification are inseparable, but it is like the light and the heat from the sun: they are related but not the same.  We are clothed in Christ's righteousness, but that does not make us perfect in this life. 

Tomorrow's reading: 3.11.7-3.11.12

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