Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Scripture About Justification to Works, Part I

There are certain passages throughout Scripture that by themselves might incorrectly lead someone to believe that our justification is works based and not faith based. Over the next two days we are going to read about a number of these passages and try to understand what is meant by them. Calvin does not address every single instance, but tends to lump them into categories.

This first section tackles promises of the Law versus the grace of the Old Coventant. He stipulates that these "promises of the law" are "those properly pertaining to the law" that "declare that there is recompense ready for you if you do what they enjoin." However, there are passages in the Old Testament like 1 Kings 8:23 which speak to God's mercy, "LORD God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts." This is the grace of the Old Covenant to which Calvin is referring.  God's mercy does not depend on the works of man.  But good works are a sign that we belong to Him, "because in those who are directed to the good by his Spirit he recognizes the only genuine insignia of his children."  Later he writes about works, "It is not the foundation by which believers stand firm before God that is described but the means whereby our most merciful Father introduces them into his fellowship, and protects and strengthens them therein."

There are passages in the Old Testament which speak of the righteousness of the works of the Law.  Calvin acknowledges this to be true.  He writes, "perfect obedience to the law is righteousness...but...due to the weakness of our flesh, it is nowhere visible."  We can have a works-based righteousness, but only if we perfectly adhere to every law our whole lives.  Once we have broken the law, we have eliminated the possibility of earning righteousness.  We earn no praise from God for a good work because of all the transgressions we have committed, plus the good work is impure because we were the ones performing it. 

Some would contend since both the faith of Abraham (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6) and the deeds committed by Phinehas (Psalm 106:31) were both reckoned as righteousness, our righteousness must rely on justification by faith and by works.  "Since Paul knew that justification of faith is a refuge for those who lack righteousness of their own, he boldly infers that all who are justified by faith are excluded from works righteousness."  Calvin contends that only after the forgiveness of sins can works have any value, but they must be covered in Christ's perfection to hide the imperfection of our works.  Calvin defines justification as: "the sinner, received into communion with Christ, is reconciled to God by his grace, while, cleansed by Christ's blood, he obtains forgiveness of sins, and clothed with Christ's righteousness as if it were his own, he stands confident before the heavenly judgment seat."  It is only after all imperfections have been blotted out, all sins have been forgiven, and Christ covers the imperfections of our works, that the good works performed by believers are able to be reckoned as righteousness.

The next section, Calvin makes one point.  People who believe in a works-based righteousness still recognize that this righteousness begins with a faith-based righteousness.  Therefore, faith-based righteousness is seen as the stronger of the two because works-based righteousness still depends on it.  "For unless the justification of faith remains whole and unbroken, the uncleanness of works will be uncovered."

It is only after we have received pardon for our sins that our works are acceptable to God.  "Therefore, as we ourselves, when we have been engrafted in Christ, are righteous in God's sight because our iniquities are covered by Christ's sinlessness, so our works are righteous and are  thus regarded because whatever fault is otherwise in them is buried in Christ's purity, and is not charged to our account."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.17.11-3.17.15 

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