Basket of Figs

Published 2001-07

Bud Powell

Trinity Covenant RCUS, Colorado Springs

 

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Access into Grace

 

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.   --Romans 5:1,2

 

I finally got around to reading my January/February issue of Books and Culture.  In it Robert H. Gundry at Westmont College was taking Calvinists to task for insisting that Christ’s life of perfect righteousness, including His death, was the foundation of our justification.  His specific complaints had to do with the “strongly Reformed tone” of the document “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration,” published by Christianity Today, June 14, 1999.

 

In the theological battles that followed the Protestant Reformation none were more important than the struggle over the relationship of faith to the salvation of the soul.  Against Rome the Reformers insisted that salvation was by faith alone.  Against the Reformation, Rome expressed her doctrine clearly at the Council of Trent: Sixth Session:

 

CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema. 

 

The issue was, and is, not unimportant.  Rome has never yielded on this, for to do so would eliminate the whole system upon which her wealth and influence depend.

 

But a major crack soon appeared in the ranks of those who opposed Rome.  The Remonstrance [followers of Arminius] and the Socinians [Unitarians] brought in a deadly error that has become widespread in evangelical circles in America.  This was the idea that faith takes the place of righteousness in the eyes of God.  The faith of the individual substitutes for Christ’s righteousness.  Subjectivism replaces the objective anchor of the obedience of Christ.

 

Although there were many variations of the error, the essentials were something like this:  “God knows that no sinner can do that which will make him just before God.  Obedience to all the precepts of the Law of God lies beyond man.  Man would therefore be without hope, if God did not require of him something which man could do.  In mercy and grace, God sent His Son into the world to show man that He loved him.  If man would just open his heart and believe that God loves him, then God would accept his faith instead of obedience to His law.  Like a bankrupt, man cannot pay the whole bill, but God will accept what man can pay.  Man can choose to believe, and God accepts that faith in place of righteousness.  God accepts man’s good intentions of which faith is the prize and gem.”

 

The doctrine does not bear the weight of the examination of Scripture.  The Bible is clear.  It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and His perfect obedience to the law, including suffering its penalty on the cross, which clears man’s debt and sets him free.  God cannot deny Himself, and He cannot pretend that man has fulfilled the law when man hasn’t done so.  Justification is not based upon some pretense in God or some overlooking of transgression.  This would require God to deny His own word:  Exodus 34:7  Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty ; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.  The mercy that God shows does not involve clearing the guilty.

 

The text quoted above gives the true doctrine.  It is by faith that we have access into the grace wherein we stand.  It is grace that brings us to Jesus Christ, and it is His righteousness that satisfies the debt we owe to God.  2 Corinthians 5:21  For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

 

The righteousness which the redeemed offer to God has nothing of them, but is wholly the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He took our sin, so that His righteousness could be imputed to us.  Paul clearly makes the case in Romans 7:18,19 “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

 

Just as the sin of Adam came upon all men to condemnation, so the righteousness of Jesus Christ comes upon all those who believe in Him.   By faith we see that Christ died for our sins and we give assent to the verdict of God concerning His Son:  Galatians 2:19-21  For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.   I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.   I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

 

The doctrine of the Arminians and Unitarians has been devastating on morality and decency among those who are in error.  Good intentions replace obedience, and good feelings are offered in place of good deeds and sound doctrine.  If God will settle for some human-generated good feelings concerning Jesus Christ apart from union with Him, then why shouldn’t my neighbor be satisfied with my good intentions? “I am convinced that I had no idea I was breaking the law,” becomes the excuse for every crooked politician who corrupts the law.   “He is such a loving man,” is a justification for every kind of misdeed among the clergy.   Truth gets overwhelmed with globs of sentiment and professed intentions.  “God knows my heart,” is supposed to cover all.

 

But doesn’t Paul say that Abraham’s faith was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4:22)?   The great theologian Charles Hodge wrote on this verse:  “Faith justifies by appropriating to ourselves the divine promise.  But if that promise does not refer to our justification, faith cannot make us righteous.  The object of justifying or saving faith, that is, of those acts of faith which secure our acceptance with God, is not the divine veracity in general, nor the divine authority of the Scriptures, but the specific promise of gratuitous acceptance through the mediation and merit of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  {Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans 4:22)

 

Abraham was justified by faith because his faith united him to Jesus Christ, who was present in the promises of the Old Testament.  Just as Paul wrote to the Galatians:  And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.  So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.  [Galatians 3:8,9]  Abraham by faith looked forward to the coming Redeemer, just as we look back to Him.

 

As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it:

 

Q61:  Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?

 

 A61:  Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; [1] and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only. [2]

1.  I Cor. 1:30; 2:2

2.     I John 5:10; Isa. 53:5; Gal. 3:22; Rom. 4:16

 

There is a great difference between the reality itself and the means for attaining the reality.  As far as salvation is concerned, the reality is Christ.  He is obtained only by faith.  Those who trust their faith will not be saved.

 

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