EXPLAIN IN YOUR OWN WORDS “JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH”
Greetings to all who may read this,
I pray that all is well with you and yours. We are continuing my colloquy journey into the Association of American Lutheran Churches (https://www.taalc.org/).
We are justified or made right with God strictly by grace alone through faith alone. Human beings are captive to sin from birth. We cannot respond to spiritual matters, we are enemies of God, we are at enmity with the things of God (Romans 8). We cannot produce the fruit of the spirit or regenerate ourselves through sheer will power, discipline, or “asking Christ into our hearts.” Repeating the Sinner’s Prayer is no guarantee that a person has been born from above (John 3). If Christ does not regenerate; we are not regenerated. If the Holy Spirit does not birth the new man in us through the Word and Sacraments, we remain dead in our sins. Christ said that the flesh counts for nothing (Jn. 6:63). I am also reminded of Romans 3: Romans 3:23-28 English Standard Version (ESV)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Romans 3 reminds us that no one is without sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And yet, in his abundant mercy God justifies by his grace as a gift through Christ. We are justified without the Law. It is our faith in what Christ has accomplished that saves us, not our faith in our accomplishments, or even our confidence in our own faith. For individual faith is subjective, and is prone to the ups and downs of human emotion, due to sin. Even if I don’t “feel” as though I am justified; Christ cannot lie, and His promises are sure. The Word and Sacraments are the objective, concrete vehicles through which our justification is accomplished. Faith is given to us, we don’t create it from within our fleshly hearts!!! Paul tells Timothy: Titus 3:4-7 English Standard Version (ESV)4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. — So according to Christ’s own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of Holy Spirit, we are justified by grace so we might become heirs of eternal life.
As it is written: Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) 1 jAnd you were kdead in the trespasses and sins 2 lin which you once walked, following the course of this world, following mthe prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in nthe sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in othe passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body1 and the mind, and pwere by nature qchildren of wrath, like the rest of mankind.2 4 But3 God, being rrich in mercy, sbecause of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even twhen we were dead in our trespasses, umade us alive together with Christ—vby grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and wseated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable xriches of his grace in ykindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For zby grace you have been saved athrough faith. And this is bnot your own doing; cit is the gift of God, 9 dnot a result of works, eso that no one may boast. 10 For fwe are his workmanship, gcreated in Christ Jesus hfor good works, iwhich God prepared beforehand, jthat we should walk in them.
This passage of scripture lays out clearly the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. We cannot, will not, and have never been able to “choose” Christ since the fall. We inherited original sin from Adam, and we commit actual sins every day. Both of these categories of sin deserve God’s wrath. Christ made satisfaction for both actual and original sin. Article II of the Augsburg Confession states this on original sin: 1] Also they (the Lutheran Churches) teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with 2] concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost. 3] They condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.
Mankind has constantly and consistently gravitated towards sin since the fall of Adam and Eve. Quite simply, if human beings are born in a neutral spiritual condition, able to freely choose either good or evil, why don’t we just choose the good every time? We don’t because we cannot. Romans 8:7 says: Romans 8:7 English Standard Version (ESV) 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. And Romans 1 says: Romans 5:10
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. — This passage proves that prior to being in Mystical Union with Christ, we were enemies of God. How can an enemy of God freely turn to Him? Why would an enemy of God turn to Him? It seems to me that an enemy of God would have to have a change of heart before turning to the Son of God. It seems as though the New Birth in the Holy Spirit is what the prophet Ezekiel is looking forward to: Ezekiel 36:25-27 English Standard Version 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. — Again, promises like these give me so much hope! First, let’s start with verse 25, where Yahweh Himself says he will sprinkle clean water on us. If this isn’t a reference to baptism, I don’t know what is. And God speaks through Ezekiel and says that God will clean us from all our uncleannesses. Again, this is pure and beautiful monergism. God will give us new hearts, and new spirits. He will remove the heart of stone from our flesh and give us hearts of flesh. He will put His Spirit within us, and cause us to walk in his statutes and obey his rules.
6a. WHAT IS THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN “JUSTIFICATION” AND “SANCTIFICATION?”
When it comes to sanctification, I can’t help but think of 1 Thessalonians: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (ESV) Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Again, we see that not only is salvation solely the work of God, but sanctification is also purely God’s work. Sanctification is I don’t see any room in any of these passages for synergism, semi-Pelagianism, or Pelagianism. Even in those passages where Paul admonishes the churches to a higher moral standard, we must first remember that Paul is writing to Christians. These are people who have already been baptized, both with water and with the Spirit of God:
Ephesians 4:4-6 English Standard Version 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
— We see that the one Spirit has filled the one Body with his presence. We have all been baptized into Christ and baptized with the Holy Spirit when we go down into the water. The Father of us all is over, through and in all of us.
So justification is God’s total declaration of righteousness of the sinner who repents and is regenerated through the power of the Word or baptism. Justification is indeed “the article on which the church stands or falls,” as Martin Luther states. However, the passage above states that the Father is working among us to continue to make us a bride without spot or wrinkle. Sanctification is the spiritual growth that follows justification. And just as justification is purely God’s work, sanctification is also purley God’s work.
6a. IS SANCTIFICATION BY “GRACE THROUGH FAITH?”
Sanctification is entirely God’s work, just as justification is entirely God’s work. It is God who works in us from the time we are justified until we reach a state of perfection in heaven, and this state of perfection can only be reached in heaven. As it is written:
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
- Philippians 2:13 (ESV)
for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
So we see from the aforementioned passages that even after we are justified, our growth in godliness is entirely God’s work! Christ is the founder and perfecter of our faith Hebrews 12:2 (ESV). And another passage in Hebrews gives further illumination: Hebrews 10:14 (ESV) – For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. These passages clearly tell us that Christ and Christ alone is responsible for our justification and sanctification, from beginning to end. “Sanctification is the spiritual growth that follows justification. By God’s grace, a Christian cooperates in this work. Through the Holy Spirit’s work in the Means of Grace, faith is increased, love strengthened, and the image of God renewed. Lutherans believe that sanctification will be complete only in heaven.”(The Lutheran Difference, Topic. 8, pg. 251). If we are sinful when we come to Christ, and cannot free ourselves from that sin, how do we think we can progressively grow in the fruits of the Spirit without the Spirit continually working in us after our justification? Christ said we must abide in Him, because apart from him we can do nothing: John 15:5 (ESV) – I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. — Christ told the disciples that there was no way they could bear fruits in keeping with repentance if they separated from their Source, the Vine, that is Christ. There is no way one can be justified, and begin in Christ, and then rely on self-discipline or some kind of mental toughness or bushido mindset to produce godly character! It just doesn’t work. So since we know this doesn’t work, I thank God for the grace that took place almost 500 years ago when the Book of Concord was written! These symbols of the church should not be ignored, and should be constantly referred back to.