Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Justification and the Righteousness of Christ

We pick up today's reading in the middle of Calvin's explanation of how we receive salvation through faith and not through any of our own works.  Galatians 3:11-12 reads, "But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith.'  Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.'"  Works are required only for a law-based righteousness.  We can never achieve this type of righteousness because we will continually fail.  Works are not required for a faith-based righteousness and we count on God's grace for it.  Calvin writes, "From this relation it is clear that those who are justified by faith are justified apart from the merit of works - in fact, without the merit of works."  Romans 4:4-5 makes it clear, "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness..."  Grace is free.  We cannot earn grace.

The Sophists had a hard time with the word "alone" in the phrase "justification by faith alone."  They claimed that only the ceremonial works of the law had been excluded, and not the moral works of the law.  Therefore, according to them, we must still perform and uphold all the moral works required in the law to earn our righteousness.  It is clear that the law is unable to justify us.  When this is taught in the New Testament, it is clear that the entire law is what is being referred to.  For instance, Galatians 3:10 reads, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.'"  This specifies "all things," not just "ceremonial things."  Their argument just does not hold water.

Does this mean that works are entirely meaningless?  Can we just do whatever we want and ignore what God has commanded?  Absolutely not.  Calvin writes, "Though works are highly esteemed, they have their value from God's approval rather than from their own worth."  On their own, works are meaningless.  Their value comes from man's intention to show obedience to God.  Not even Abraham could be justified through his works, and the covenant that God made with him occurred 430 years before the law was given to Moses.

We have read about righteousness, but Calvin now takes time to define it.  He writes, "the righteousness of faith is reconciliation with God, which consists solely in the forgiveness of sins."  So what is reconciliation?  "Sin is division between man and God, the turning of God's face away from the sinner; and it cannot happen otherwise, seeing that it is foreign to his righteousness to have any dealings with is God's enemy until he is restored to grace through Christ."  We are restored to grace through Christ in that our sins are forgiven.  We are made righteous "solely by the fact that [we] are purified when [our] spots are washed away by forgiveness of sins."

Some have apparently tried to differentiate between righteousness and reconciliation.  Calvin shows that Paul used these two words interchangeably.  II Corinthians 5:19,21 show this.  "that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation...For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."  Calvin said that the words were used "indiscriminately, to have us understand that each one is reciprocally contained in the other."  Calvin quotes Augustine and Bernard.  Augustine wrote, "The righteousness of the saints in this world consists more in the forgiveness of sins than in perfection of virtues."  Augustine recognized our utter dependence on God's mercy for our salvation and not our own adherence to the law.  Bernard wrote this profound statement, "Not to sin is the righteousness of God; but the righteousness of man is the grace of God."

We are not righteous in and of ourselves, but through Christ are we clothed in His righteousness.  Calvin writes that the righteousness we have is not our own but of Christ communicating His righteousness to us by imputation.  "For in such a way does the Lord Christ share his righteousness with us that, in some wonderful manner, he pours enough of his power to meet the judgment of God."  Ambrose compared this to the story of Jacob wearing his brother's coat and going before his father, Isaac.  Ambrose wrote, "That Isaac smelled the odor of the garments perhaps means that we are justified not by works but by faith, since the weakness of the flesh is a hindrance to works, but the brightness of faith, which merits the pardon of sins, overshadows the error of deeds."  Calvin responds, "And this is indeed the truth, for in order that we may appear before God's face unto salvation we must smell sweetly with his odor, and our vices must be covered and buried by his perfection."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.12.1-3.12.3

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