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The Irony of Preaching Justification by Faith

I use to believe that human beings would gladly love to hear that God saves us by His grace through faith in Christ Jesus.  I thought that that was indeed very good news to us fallen humans who have nothing to offer a holy God for our salvation or for our forgiveness.  I was convinced that the Church needed to preach this good news and the world would gladly hear the gospel message, repent of their sins, and embrace the Lordship of Christ over their lives.

How wrong I was.

The truth of Romans 1:18-32 and especially in verses 18 and 25 continue to ring true the more I am involved with evangelism.  People do not love God.  They do not love the truth of God.  They despise God and His laws and they refuse to have Him reign over them.  Each person seems to want to be the master of their own fate, the captain of their souls.  They want to do it their way.  They want to love and cherish and worship their sins rather than the one true God.  The idea of justification by faith is offensive to those wrapped in their sins and who believe that they can earn their own salvation.  I even had one guy tell me, “When the day of judgement comes, I will stand and take it like a man.”  I told him he would not stand and take it like a man but would tremble in fear and seek to run away from the awful presence of a holy and just God (Hebrews 10:31).

People love darkness rather than light (John 3:19-21).  The NIV reads:

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

People do not desire the truth of God.  They want their sin and their open rebellion against God.

Yet this should not cause us not to preach the gospel to the lost.  Scripture says that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5:20).  Paul the Apostle, despite intense persecution, saw the glory of God revealed in the gospel as he faithfully preached the Word (Acts 18:1-11).  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, makes it clear that the success of evangelism lies not in our methods or our dress or our style but in the faithfulness of God.  God is the one who saves sinners for His own glory and honor (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).  Jesus makes it clear in John 6:44 that none can come to the Father unless the Father draws them.  This same Greek word for draw here in John 6:44 is found in John 12:32.  When we lift up Jesus in truth, He saves sinners.  Our duty is to simply preach Jesus to the lost.  God will save sinners (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Preaching justification by faith does not often bring people joy but hatred.  Religious people want to believe that it is God’s grace plus their works that obtain salvation.  They want to add to the work of Christ.  Few surrender to the teaching that salvation is wrought completely by God.  Most want to believe it is faith in Jesus plus our works that keep us saved or at least help God along.  This is simply not true.  God saves us and keeps us by His grace through faith.  Salvation from beginning to end is by grace through faith (2 Corinthians 1:24).  We are not to add to the work of Christ through some false belief that it is our works, our obedience to the law that keeps us right with God.  What keeps me saved is grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, and not even my faith, is my salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  Jesus is my faithful high priest before the Father (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus’ blood forgives me of my sins (Acts 13:38-39) and His blood is what helps me remain pure before God (1 John 1:7).  The work of Christ is my total salvation.  I bring nothing to the table to offer a holy God.  Jesus alone is the very One who has redeemed me by His grace (Mark 10:45).

The religious, the sin lover, the unbeliever – these are the ones who despise the most the truth of justification by faith.  The gospel is offensive to our human pride (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  We may acknowledge the giving of God’s Son for our salvation but few really believe that Jesus is our total salvation.  Many semi-Pelagians abound who believe that God does His part and we do ours.  No!  The work of salvation is all of God (Acts 15:11).  Jesus alone is the One that we must cast our total faith in to save us from the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9).  As 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 (NASB) reads,

8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.

I pray that you and I would be among those who marvel at the work of Christ and long for Him to be glorified among His saints!  I long to see His salvation not just come but to be preached by the Church of Christ throughout the nations (Mark 16:15).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/21/2013 at 11:06 AM

10 Responses

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  1. “I was convinced that the Church needed to preach this good news and the world would gladly hear the gospel message, repent of their sins, and embrace the Lordship of Christ over their lives.”

    In what sense does “repenting of sins” have anything to do with what the modern means by “justification by faith alone”? Because the modern takes the word ‘impious’ (aka ‘ungodly’) in Romans 4:5 to mean ‘positively wicked’ rather than ‘novice’ or ‘unconcerned with religion, particularly with dogma’ the modern version of ‘justification by faith alone’ is the exact opposite of repentance: it is the doctrine that the positively immoral are justified without having to repent! This of course is not what 3rd and 4th century exegtes (as few as there were who believed in justification by faith ‘alone’) meant by the phrase!

    “They despise God and His laws and they refuse to have Him reign over them.”

    How is justification by faith alone “God’s law” exactly? Isn’t it actually offered as a substitute for God’s law?

    “I even had one guy tell me, ‘When the day of judgement comes, I will stand and take it like a man.'”

    Undoubtedly there is a failure of comprehension on your part, for he most likely did not mean that he is sinless, but rather that he doesn’t buy into the over-the-top and nonsensical modern doctrine of condemnation to a full eternity in hell no matter how big or small your sins are. This modern doctrine that everyone, no matter how good or bad they live, is in some default status of damnation to a full eternity in hell, is clearly contrary to many passages of scripture which teach a proportional punishment. The message of justification by faith alone has a problem first because of the modern misunderstanding of the term asebia in Rom 4:5, but second because of the modern obsession with maximizing damnation and making the maximum be by default! This is where you lose people, not because they are wrong, but because you are. The one who “wants their sin and their open rebellion against God” is the one who preaches justification by faith alone for the positively immoral rather than for the merely impious, and who uses justification by faith alone as a weapon against God’s law, and who preaches default damnation to full eternity in hell with no distinction between sins.

    descriptivegrace

    02/21/2013 at 10:56 PM

    • You and I must be coming at this from different perspectives. What is your understanding of the gospel? Are we justified before God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Or are we saved some other way?

      • I guess the answer to those questions depends on what you mean by saved and what from. Do you mean saved from a default status of damnation to a full eternity in hell? If so, Paul nowhere teaches such a thing, for he never once mentions hell. The synoptic gospels have quite a bit to say about hell and its eternality, but never do they make it a default status. Paul’s position, especially taking into account 1st Cor 15, seems to be that everyone who does not believe in Christ ceases to exist and only believers continue to exist and get resurrected, and this is what he calls salvation. Yet, even here, Paul doesn’t see this as meaning no punishment of any sort awaits the saved, for he says we must all stand before the judgement seat of Christ to receive some proportional punishment for ours sins, and he says this to Christians (obviously, since, as mentioned, in his view non-Christians cease to exist). That passage about ‘flaming fire’ in Thessalonians is about the killing off of the last living unbelievers, not about hell for those already dead. Indeed by saying “If Christ is not risen, we cease to exist when we die” (paraphrased obviously) in 1st Cor 15, he clearly makes the hope of resurrection rest not on any OT passage but on Jesus’ resurrection, and clearly demonstrates that to him damnation = ceasing to exist, salvation = continuing to exist. He treats damnation as a default status earned by Adam for the whole human race, and salvation as all of God and none of us. This all makes sense since to him damnation is nothing but dying and staying dead, and salvation nothing but continuing to exist and being resurrected. Fine, but What about the synoptic gospels? They obviously believe that everyone continues to exist, that there is a general resurrection both of the just and unjust, and that those who earn hell by bad deeds go there. Never is hell a default status but rather the synoptics warn “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off, for it is better…than to be cast into hell….” Because damnation here means something different than in Paul, it is not a default status, and also salvation from it (or rather avoiding it) is not all of God. We have two different perspectives here, like it or not, and they cannot truly be harmonized without doing a great disservice to them. Harmonize Paul to Matthew, and you destroy both of their messages. You insert hell in Paul’s thought where it does not exist at all, and you may also end up inserting the necessity of works to salvation into Paul’s thought if you harmonize him with Matthew. And if you harmonize Matthew to Paul, then you insert default status damnation into Matthew where it does not belong, and you take away the necessity of works to salvation from Matthew where it is clearly found. You also end up with a muddles view of what salvation is, because you mix avoiding hell from Matthew with avoiding ceasing to exist from Paul, and the result is very confusing. This is why Christianity struggles so much in the modern world. Two reasons: (1) in the ancient world people in general couldn’t read the Bible and so were not aware of the difference of perspective between the synoptics and Paul and could be made to believe anything since they couldn’t read! even if they could read, the Bible was like an encyclopedia set both in size and cost, but this is no longer the case now that we can fit the Bible in our pocket and are all literate. We see the problem, we see the inconsistency. (2) we can’t stand an inconsistent system because its illogical. — These are unique problems that we must face in modern times, and it appears the only solution is to pick one perspective and drop the other.

        descriptivegrace

        02/22/2013 at 9:20 PM

      • But are you saved? Do you have assurance right now that your sins are forgiven, that Christ is your salvation, that He alone saves you by His grace?

  2. “But are you saved? Do you have assurance right now that your sins are forgiven, that Christ is your salvation, that He alone saves you by His grace?”

    I suggest you should consider some of the much ignored arguments put forth by Erasmus towards the end of his Diatribo Libero Arbitrio, because you sound more like a Calvinist than an Arminian.

    I mean these:

    1. If a man is drowning and he cries out ‘help, I am drowning’ has he saved himself? Don’t we rather say that the man who jumps in and swims over and saves him has saved him? Yet, oh no, the drowning man did something! Oh my whatever shall we do?!!!? The Calvinist will insist that since he did something, no matter how small, he saved himself, because the Calvinist is absurd and you sound just like them.

    2. if a ship is about to hit the rocks, the pilot narrowly turns the wheel and avoids collision. We say “God saved the ship.” Yet the pilot as not totally idle.

    3. If a child is born, we say “Look at the beautiful child God has given us.” Yet (Erasmus says in jest) “the father had a hand in begetting!” And (I add) the mother had a hand in giving birth. But because God did way more, we give him the credit.

    And so on. The point is that preaching that we should be idle, not repent, not try to live right, just let God do it all is a false gospel. Of course God gets the credit in the end. God also gets the credit when the physician heals someone: we say “God saved him” but the physician did something, he prescribed the medicine. Its like Paul says about “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” Paul did something, and Apollos did something, and I dare say also the converts themselves did something, but God did the most so he gets the credit. Just because God gets the credit does not mean we are supposed to be idle.

    descriptivegrace

    02/23/2013 at 4:48 PM

    • By no means, grace does teach us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:12) and grace empowers us to serve the living God (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:12-13) but this is the fruit of our salvation which is by grace alone through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). Paul knew he was saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and he assured Timothy he was saved (2 Timothy 3:15). John the Apostle gave us proofs of our salvation in 1 John (1 John 1:4-2:2; 2:7-11; 5:10) as did James in his epistle (James 2:14-26). We are Jesus’ disciples if we obey His commandments (John 8:31-32). There is no doubt that obedience is part of our salvation (Luke 6:46). However, obedience is not the door to salvation. It is the fruit of being saved. Apart from the grace of God, we don’t desire to obey God (Romans 8:7-8). In our flesh, we don’t want to submit to Christ as Lord (Ephesians 2:1-3).

      I am saved because of the work of Christ Jesus (Hebrews 9:27-28; 10:10, 14). Jesus is my salvation (1 Corinthians 1:30-31). He is my everything (Philippians 3:7-11). Just last night I was reading Galatians 2:15-21 and was so blessed to read the text. I am justified before God because of Christ! My standing before God is by grace through faith (Romans 5:1-11). No doubt this grace is not a license to sin (Jude 4) but His grace works in me to help me to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). In the words of Charles Wesley, “My God assists me to obey.”

      Praise God that we can KNOW that we are saved (Romans 8:12-17).

      • I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that “My God assists me to obey.” I was reading Koffman Kohler’s Jewish Theology the other day and he cites a Talmudic saying to the same effect, from memory “He who would persist in sin will find all the gates open before him, and he who would obey will find all the forces of goodness assisting him.” But this is not strictly to the point. I think you are confusing the terms justification and salvation as equivalents where there is certainly some level of distinction between them even in the Pauline vocabulary. Paul speaks of justification by faith apart from works, but yet of working out your salvation with fear and trembling. It seems then that justification is like the entry requirement into the covenant and salvation is the final culmination.

        So, when you say, “There is no doubt that obedience is part of our salvation (Luke 6:46). However, obedience is not the door to salvation. It is the fruit of being saved.” This really should be modified to There is no doubt that obedience is part of our salvation (Luke 6:46). However, obedience is not the door to justification. It is the fruit of being justified.” Even that I think is rather confusing. I think in reality justification and salvation and obedience have to be somewhat circular. You obey because you are justified, you are saved because you are justified, yet you are justified because you’re saved and saved because you obeyed, and obeyed because you were justified, and justified because you obeyed, but you obeyed because you were saved. Its too flowing of a process to put it in a concrete temporal order. That’s the mistake people make, Paul included. At every point in the process you have to obey, but nor perfectly because God is merciful.

        descriptivegrace

        03/01/2013 at 1:31 AM

      • Do you believe Paul the Apostle was wrong?

      • I think he is read wrong. He is read as if he is talking about a subject he is not truly talking about, i.e. temporal order of “decrees” and so on. This is the big argument behind both Arminianism and Calvinism. And I don’t think he had any of that in mind. So when I say “Paul,” sometimes I don’t really mean Paul the person, I mean Paul the essentially fictional construct created by modern interpretation of what Paul wrote.

        descriptivegrace

        03/02/2013 at 11:02 PM

      • I see. Like NT Wright. He says essentially the same thing, that Paul is read wrong. I believe we should read him as we would read any other author and seek to learn from their context, other writings, etc.


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