Reformation Matters 3

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This is the third post in celebration of the 505th Reformation.

The Only Given Instrumentality: Faith Alone

“Justification is by faith alone, but it isn’t a faith that is alone, for true faith produces good works. Still, good works are not the ground or cause of salvation; they are the fruit of one’s faith. The perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers, so that their righteousness is not inherent but is theirs because they are united to Jesus Christ. At the final judgment God will declare publicly what was already the case in the lives of believers, i.e., that they are righteous by faith, and their works will verify (but will not be the foundation of) that declaration.”
― Thomas R. Schreiner, Faith Alone—The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters, p. 78

Faith, which is the only given[7] instrumentality for our justification, is not sufficient, according to Rome. They added works ‘which the sinners must perform, which infused works of righteousness, though initiated by grace, are nonetheless meritorious and contribute to his final justification.’[8]  Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man (Catechism of the Catholic Church para. 1989).

The Council of Trent anathematized those who hold to the sole instrumentality of faith for justification, 

“If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace, the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase in glory, let him be anathema.”[9] 

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But the reformed confessions and catechisms maintain that none can be justified by works, it is by faith in Christ alone. With one voice, we cry “sola fide!”

[1690 London Baptist Confession of Faith 11.1] Those whom God effectually calls, he also freely justifies,1 not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God.

[Belgic Confession, Article 23] We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works. And the same apostle says that we are justified “freely” or “by grace” through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting only on the obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.

[Baptist Catechism # 36]  Q. What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins (Rom. 3:2425; and 4:678), and accepteth us as righteous in his sight (2 Cor. 5:1921), only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us (Rom. 5:17-19), and received by faith alone (Gal. 2:16Phil. 3:9).

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The testimony of the Scriptures explicitly affirms that biblical justification is a legal declaration of God. A man is declared righteous in God’s sight by faith alone, by placing his trust in Christ’s finished work. This is a legal transaction by God through the imputation of the sinner’s sin to Christ and the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to him (Acts 13:38–39, Romans 3:20–22, 28; 4:13–14; 9:30–32; Galatians 2:16; 3:10–11; Ephesians 2:8–9; Romans 4:5-8.)

yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
(Galatians 2:16 ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
(Romans 4:5-8 ESV)

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Justification by faith alone as the so-called material principle of the reformation is so vital that it was described by the reformers as “the article by which the church stands or falls” (Luther) and “the main hinge on which religion turns” (Calvin). 

This is really the point of the reformation; in fact, we can go on to say that what made the reformation a reformation is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Just remove ‘alone’ from faith in our articulation of justification you have peace with Rome.[10] Truly, “The confession of divine justification touches man’s life at its heart, at the point of its relationship to God. It defines the preaching of the Church, the existence and progress of the life of faith, the root of human security, and man’s perspective for the future.” [11]

Thomas Scheiner in his book above concludes, “Why is it vital that we receive God’s gift or righteousness? Because it is our only hope of standing in the right before God on the final day… Our right standing with God finally depends on Christ’s righteousness… If perfect obedience is required for justification, it seems to follow that we need God’s righteousness in Christ to be justified” [p. 256-7].

Thanks be to God that when we rest in our Redeemer, and when through grace in Christ our trust is, Justice smiles and asks no more [John Newton, Let us love and sing and wonder].

To God be the glory!


This blog is included in the series of posts for the 505th reformation month. 

  • [7] The writer maintains that as much as salvation is God’s gracious gift, so is faith.
  • [8] Reymond, p. 11 (emphasis in the original)
  • [9] The Roman Catholic counter-reformation Council of Trent (1545–1563) in its Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, on the fruits of justification: Canon 32
  • [10] Some endeavored to establish unity between Rome and Evangelicals through the following documents: Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” (1994), “The Gift of Salvation”(1998), and on the European continent by the document, “The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” (1997). These are nothing but “an expressed willingness to overlook one another’s ‘errors,’ presumably because church unity is to take precedence over doctrinal truth.” (Reymond, 112)

[11] Sola Fide: The Reformed Doctrine of Justification by J.I. Packer. (n.d.). Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/sola-fide-the-reformed-doctrine-of-justification#fn1

Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez is a servant of the LORD Jesus Christ, husband of Gloryben, and father of Myrhh Abigail. One of the preachers and teachers at Herald of Grace Covenant Bible Church of Cavite.
Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez

Jeff Chavez is a servant of the LORD Jesus Christ, husband of Gloryben, and father of Myrhh Abigail. One of the preachers and teachers at Herald of Grace Covenant Bible Church of Cavite.

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