What does it mean to be “justified?” Is it needless theological wrangle to discuss such topics with the average Christian? Actually, the idea of being justified or “right before God” is the heart of the Christian Faith. It is important to understand this concept because it is the source of the Christian’s security and joy, and the heart of his relationship with God. The following is the paper I wrote for my class on Salvation and Regeneration. It is my hope in writing it the way that I have to bring some of the deep theological truths into a form that will benefit the average Christian. I encourage you to read it and contemplate its truths.
The Just Shall Live By Faith
“There was a time, not so long ago, when the blessed truth of Justification was one of the best known doctrines of the Christian faith, when it was regularly expounded by the preachers, and when the rank and file of church-goers were familiar with its leading aspects. But now, alas, a generation has arisen which is well-nigh totally ignorant of this precious theme, for with very rare exceptions it is no longer given a place in the pulpit, nor is scarcely anything written thereon in the religious magazines of our day; and, in consequence, comparatively few understand what the term itself connotes, still less are they clear as to the ground on which God justifies the ungodly.” ( A.W. Pink, Doctrine of Justification, Introduction) The neglect of this doctrine was common in the 20’s and 30’s of the last century, and it has only increased in the last eighty-plus years. I believe that this is primarily the result of the North American Church’s, almost wholesale, rejection of the truths of Christianity in favor of the private interpretations of a plethora of individuals, a hundred years before the time of Mr. Pink.
While Pink speaks in the fifth chapter of his work about the corruptions of John Wesley in the 18th Century, and those of the Plymouth Brethren in the 19th Century as the original source of this, their significant but limited influence became most profound in the 19th Century, due to the new attitude toward all things historical and authoritative. Nathan O. Hatch says on page 163 of his book, The Democratization of American Christianity, “The quest for a free marketplace of ideas fueled the severe anticlericalism of leaders such as Alexander Campbell. In 1840, Campbell gained a charter for Bethany College from the state of Virginia with the curious provision that no professorship of theology should ever be established. Campbell’s disdain for the clerical monopoly over learning led to this ironclad prohibition in a school that hoped to train a cadre of Disciples ministers.” This attitude that began to pervade the Church in the United States in the middle of the 19th Century, spread like wildfire until the traditional understandings of vital Scripture truths were nearly obliterated from the minds of those who were won to the novel concept of the “Church” which overran the nation. This predates the influence of “Fundamentalist” Christianity, but it is where it has its roots and so it holds to many of the basic tenets of that era; the rejection of Church authority (Creeds and Confessions, etc.), the right and authority of the individual to interpret without proper training, and the introduction of novel concepts. As Modernism blossomed in the 19th Century as well, the “Fundamental” brand of Christianity stood against its innovations as they fought for the Authenticity and Authority of Scripture, the reality of the Virgin Birth, Miracles and Atonement of Christ. Yet, in many ways they took what might have been a noble stand for orthodoxy and made it into just another group of fanatics, trying to force their will upon the Church when they threw out the baby of the classic interpretations of truly fundamental truths, with the bathwater of dead religion. So much of this is true with regard to what I have called above, “vital Scripture truths.”
A clear understanding of primary doctrines like the nature of sin, the Fall and man’s corruption were largely rejected and reinterpreted through the popular view of human nature within the culture. When sin became small, grace became far less amazing. It is not that sin was not spoken of in this time. It was indeed the centerpiece of many sermons, yet the corruption of the human nature that preceded it was, for the most part, lost. Man was basically good but had lost his way. He needed Christ to forgive sins, but did not need to be literally, “born again.” Certainly a salvation of sorts was necessary, past sins needed to be forgiven, but the idea of the imputation of the perfections of Christ were not generally considered, due to the fact that man’s thorough corruption was discarded or explained away.
Charles G. Finney, the most prominent of preachers in the 1830’s says in his Systematic Theology, “Moral depravity cannot consist in any attribute of nature or constitution, nor in any lapsed and fallen state of nature; for this is physical and not moral depravity.” (Lecture XXII) Though he espoused the totality of depravity in the unregenerate, he demanded that it was only by volition. “Moral depravity is not then to be accounted for by ascribing it to a nature or constitution sinful in itself…. It is to overlook the essential nature of sin, and to make sin a physical virus, instead of a voluntary and responsible choice.” (XXIII) Thus it follows, it is “only” by “voluntary and responsible choice” that we must be made right with our Creator. What a gutting of the Gospel for the sake of saving face with regard to our sin and our ability to be righteous!
I believe that Pink was dead-on as he explained what he called “The Problem” in the third chapter of his work. “In this and the following chapter our aim will be fourfold. First, to demonstrate the impossibility of any sinner obtaining acceptance and favour with God on the ground of his own performances. Second, to show that the saving of a sinner presented a problem which nought but omniscience could solve, but that the consummate wisdom of God has devised a way whereby He can pronounce righteous a guilty transgressor of His Law without impeaching His veracity, sullying His holiness, or ignoring the claims of justice; yea, in such a way that all His perfections have been displayed and magnified, and the Son of His love glorified. Third, point out the sole ground on which an awakened conscience can find solid and stable peace. Fourth, seek to give God’s children a clearer understanding of the exceeding riches of Divine grace, that their hearts may be drawn out in fervent praise unto the Author of “so great salvation.” (Ch. 3, The Problem) The third and fourth points are really impossible to accomplish without accepting the reality of the first, man’s utter inability and, the second, God’s performing the work of reconciliation through Christ and His pronouncement of the sinners standing before Him as the sole claim to his being restored. Only then can we have peace that is “solid and stable.” Only then can we see the true “riches of Divine grace.” As I see this played out in the lives of those who profess faith in Christ, I see its effects when it is misunderstood, and I see people falling off on two sides.
A Case Study
When I first began to candidate at churches as I was entering paid ministry, I was confronted by a former pastor who was in his 80’s. It was in a somewhat fundamentalist (but not hardcore), independent Bible church. As I sat with the search committee, this man sat in as somewhat of a consultant. The first words that came as they began their interview were, “Are you a Calvinist or a Wesleyan?” I replied, “You would call me a Calvinist.” Without hesitation, he retorted with a loud and deep laugh as he looked around at the men sitting at the table, “You believe that you can sin as much as you want and still go to heaven!” Needless to say, that was not the church that the Lord was calling me to, but I believe that this conversation classically portrays both sides of the issue at hand.
From his “Wesleyan” perspective, he had the idea of prevenient grace beneath his logic and his theology. That is, that men are damaged by sin and the fall, but not dead in sin. Prevenient grace has restored them to Adam’s original status and so we are just as able to choose to serve the Lord or to serve self as he was. Justification of the sinner is then ultimately subject to the actions of the sinner. Though Christ has made the provision for his restoration, yet the individual’s ability to maintain a certain level of righteousness and ritual repentance is the true basis of his eternal destiny. (see Finney on Justification, Lecture XXXVI)
On the other hand, this old preacher’s accusation is not without foundation as it addresses much of the professing Church. With an oversimplified Gospel having been preached, largely in conjunction with something similar to the previous concept of Free Will as its foundation, this wing of the Church says that a bare profession is all that is needed and God will keep you forever, no matter whether you show real evidence of your faith or not. Certainly, this antinomianism is not the “Calvinist” position though it is portrayed as such by those who are of the ilk described in the opening paragraphs.
This translates into two very common errors in the lives of the Saints who may be in either of the above mentioned camps. Because the first has wrangled away the reality of the fundamental nature of his need and has taken upon himself the responsibility of justification, he lives in fear that he will miss one of the many sins that he has committed in his accounting before the Lord. This results in uncertainty, thus Pink’s point three, the finding of “solid and stable peace” is unattainable. This also results in the loss of the fourth point, for a promise that may or may not be fulfilled does not cause us to extol the glories of God’s grace. Once the main action is found to be with man, man becomes the center and his performance the determining factor and the glory of God’s grace is diminished. Salvation is no longer “of the Lord,” but it becomes a possibility, and only if the individual is able to meet the prescribed performance requirements. Now, salvation is “of the sinner” and rather than the glory of God’s grace being extolled, the sinner’s choice takes center stage. At this point, the “boasting” is not in the Lord, but in the sinner’s will to believe. Yet we see in that well known text, Ephesians 2:8-9 that, “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.”
The second camp, on the other hand, has made a “decision” to believe in Jesus in order to have their sins forgiven. They have been told that they could have something for nothing and that God’s promise would stand and keep them to the end. The problem again, is that it is based upon the sinners choice of God rather than on God’s choice to regenerate the sinner and give him faith. This seems to develop into a religion that is largely made up of selectexternals and that neglects the heart, the seat of sin.
The concern for holiness in the first group and the holding to the promises of God in the second are equally commendable, yet both have erred at a fundamental level and at an indispensable point. Pink tells us, “It is of first importance that the Christian should obtain a clear understanding of the ground on which God pardons his sins and grants him a title to the heavenly inheritance. Perhaps this may best be set forth under three words: substitution, identification, imputation. As their Surety and Sponsor, Christ entered the place occupied by His people under the law, so identifying Himself with them as to be their Head and Representative, and as such He assumed and discharged all their legal obligations: their liabilities being transferred to Him, His merits being transferred to them.” (Ch 4, The Basis)
If this is the case, then can my legal obedience or rituals add anything to what He has accomplished on my behalf? (NO!) Therefore in the justification that I have before God, my works must necessarily be absolutely meaningless. This is certainly what the Apostle Paul means when he tells the Romans, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Rom 4:2-5) Yet, I cannot continue in sin that grace may abound, Christ has not saved me to sin, but from it! The question is not whether I should be sanctified as a Believer, but rather, what relation that has to my justification? If justification has taken place, then sanctification will necessarily follow. As Pink states it, “It is not that the justified soul is now left to himself, so that he is certain of getting to Heaven no matter how he conducts himself—the fatal error of Antinomians. No Indeed. God also imparts to him the blessed Holy Spirit, who works within him the desire to serve, please, and glorify the One who has been so gracious to Him. “The love of Christ constraineth us… that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14-15). They now “delight in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22), and though the flesh, the world, and the Devil oppose every step of the way, occasioning many a sad fall—which is repented of, confessed, and forsaken—nevertheless the Spirit renews them day by day (2 Cor. 4:16) and leads them in the paths of righteousness for Christ’s name’s sake.” (Ch 10, Its Results)
A New, Old Direction?
A contemporary of Pink’s, J. Gresham Machen wrote, “Meanwhile a strange darkness covers the eyes of men; the message of the great Epistle [Galatians], so startlingly clear to the man whose eyes have been opened, is hidden by a mass of misinterpretation as absurd in its way as the medieval rubbish of the fourfold sense of Scripture which the Reformation brushed aside. Grammatico-historical interpretation is still being favored in theory, but despite is being done to it (by preachers if not by scholars) in practice; and the Apostle is being made to say anything that men wish him to have said. A new Reformation, we think, like the Reformation of the sixteenth century, would be marked, among other things, by a return to plain common sense; and the Apostle would be allowed, despite our likes and dislikes, to say what he really meant to say.” (Faith and Works) Now, long overdue, that reformation is starting to take place. Arthur Pink was one who stood in the gap (as was Machen) to bridge the ancient foundation to the modern structure that is the Church. Principles that the Reformers reestablished the Church upon, classical interpretation methods, the authority of confessions and creeds, and the education of ministers, bring continuity back to the Church that has splintered into innumerable pieces since the 1830’s. These vital doctrines of Christ’s substitution, identification and imputation can only be properly understood upon the foundation of man’s total corruption, the sinfulness of sin and the absolute justice of Almighty God. These are things that have been held as true in the Church since the Apostles penned the Sacred Text, but which have been assaulted by novices and false teachers throughout the history of the Church and in a particular way in the last two centuries. It is no wonder that most of the church is either buried in legalism or greater still, living lawlessly.
Most of the regard for holiness was lost as the source and nature of personal sin was corrupted by the worldly professors of the 19th century. The first brand leads to a rote legalism that ends in frustration and fear, while the second in a religion that enforces unbiblical externals and neglects the heart. It seems that the rejection of historic Christianity that took place in the 19th Century has lead to more of the same, dead legalism. As a result, as we have begun the 21st Century, the very idea of sin is almost patently absurd.
At the present, the very idea of sin itself is being cast into doubt by professing Christian Pastors! As the Church follows the mindset of the world even further down the primrose path of humanistic self-evaluation, we find Her, in some sectors, not only denying original sin , but the need of redemption. In discussing recent assertions by scientists involved in study of “genomics,” that there was no “original pair” (i.e. Adam and Even), Albert Mohler says in his blog dated August 22, 2011,
“Hagerty [an NPR interviewer] then talked to John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College for many years. Schneider took the argument even further. As Hagerty reported: “Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan until recently, says it’s time to face facts: There was no Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.”
Now, we face a broader assault on the Bible’s main storyline. Schneider leaves no doubt about the radical nature of his proposal: “Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost. So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings.’ ” (AlbertMohler.com, 8-22-11)
WOW! As we head into the future, having a Church that has never wrestled with the reality of sin and holiness, with no idea of the ramifications of justification, we do not even know what a Federal Head is, let alone that either Adam or Christ is ours. We do not perceive His perfections rendered to our account because we do not think we need His righteousness. We know only a little about why He would identify with us in taking on human flesh, many assuming that it has more to do with compassion in our suffering than with His suffering as our Sin-Bearer.
As the doctrine of Justification is largely distorted or completely unknown for these reasons, the life of the Church is disintegrating, motivations to holiness and our ability to see mans’ need for the Savior have diminished and the church has predominantly become a self-help program. Beginning with man’s generous overestimation of his own constitution and situation, faith becomes a work that he does and God becomes responsible to meet his needs as its result. Rather than an attitude of service to a Merciful Sovereign who has bestowed his unmerited favor upon a rebel, men end up like self-righteous constituents claiming their entitlements. Pink speaks of the nature of saving faith in an entirely different manner, “Many would-be teachers have erred at this point, for the common tendency of human nature is to arrogate to itself the glory which belongs alone to God. While there have been those who rejected the unscriptural notion that we can be justified before God by our own works, yet not a few of these very men virtually make a saviour of their own faith. Not only have some spoken of faith as though it were a contribution which God requires the sinner to make toward his own salvation—the last mite which was necessary to make up the price of his redemption; but others (who sneered at theologians and boasted of their superior understanding of the things of God) have insisted that faith itself is what constitutes us righteous before God, He regarding faith as righteousness.” (Chapter 8, Its Instrument)
Our faith in God and/or in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is not a man-generated acquiescence to an idea that makes us better, either on the level of sin and righteousness or on the level of self-fulfillment. As Pink says, “It is more accurate to speak of faith as the “instrument” rather than as the condition, for a “condition” is generally used to signify that for the sake whereof a benefit is conferred. Faith is neither the ground nor the substance of our justification, but simply the hand which receives the Divine gift proffered to us in the Gospel.” (Chapter 8, Its Instrument) As the Church in Pink’s day was looking to faith as an act that merited God’s declaration of their righteous standing, it becomes a much bigger problem when the world and much of the Church that is listening, believes that the gift that is to be received by God is not, to be put in a right standing with Him, but, to be more in line to receive His blessings.
The most profound thing that we see coming down to our own time is that, coming by this way, the dominant view the Christian Faith in our day has nothing to do with justification , but with God fixing our messed up lives and encouraging us on in order that we might be more fulfilled. With the Theory of Evolution impacting man’s own version of anthropology in addition to the idea that man is not fundamentally flawed, it seems that we have an uphill battle on our hands. How do we communicate this fundamental truth to a world (and largely a Church) that simply cannot identify? I believe that it is best communicated by our lives in conjunction with our words and not by our words alone. Maybe this has been the falling down point of the Church for too long. Romans 1:17 tells us, “The just shall live by faith” and I have to ask; Do we live by faith when we do not do what faith demands, when our righteousness is not demonstrated by our lives, when we do not walk in good works?
I believe that chapter 9 of Pink’s treatise is the most important to those of us who have the basics of the doctrine down. This chapter deals with the evidence that we have been justified. Though we as a Church battle the ignorance and prejudice of unregenerate men on the outside, and of false teachers on the inside, we can still say with Solomon, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecc. 1:9) The Reformers fought this battle. The 2nd Century Apologist and the Early Church fought this battle. The Apostles fought this battle. It is really only that this battle has come down to us. Man has always resisted the truth about who he is and the nature of his sin. Pelagius disrupted the Church with his false system of understanding these truths in the 400’s. Augustine stood by the Scriptures and refuted him, and the arguments he used are still valid against the same forms of false teaching today.
God has not been caught by surprise in this and He has not left us unequipped for the task! There is a tangible reality that accompanies our justification, that demonstrates the truths of Human Depravity and of a man’s Regeneration by the Spirit and thus, gives evidence of the truth of God’s Word. Unfortunately, there are many who claim to be regenerate that are not, many who hold to the promise of their Justification, but do not manifest the evidence that is given in the Scriptures. And there are others who do not understand the nature of sin and depravity or of Justification who continue to wrestle with their assurance.
Pink tells us here, “In Romans 3:28 the Apostle Paul declared “that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” and then produces the case of Abraham to prove his assertion. But the Apostle James, from the case of the same Abraham, draws quite another conclusion, saying, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).” (Chapter 9, Its Evidence) Here we have in view, two different aspects of our justification. Further on he says, “Now the design of the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:28 may be clearly perceived from its context. He is treating of the great matter of a sinner’s justification before God: he shows that it cannot be by works of the law, because by the law all men are condemned, and also because if men were justified on the ground of their own doings, then boasting could not be excluded. Positively he affirms that justification is by grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Ibid) And then he speaks of the subject of James’ epistle,
“Now the scope of the Apostle James is very different: his Epistle was written to counteract quite another error. Fallen men are creatures of extremes: no sooner are they driven out of the false refuge of trusting to their own righteousness, than they fly to the opposite and no less dangerous error of supposing that, since they cannot be justified by their own works, that there is no necessity whatever for good works, and no danger from ungodly living and unholy practice. It is very clear from the New Testament itself that very soon after the Gospel was freely proclaimed, there arose many who turned the grace of God into “lasciviousness”: that this was not only quickly espoused in theory, but soon had free course in practice. It was therefore the chief design of the Apostle James to show the great wickedness and awful danger of unholy practice and to assert the imperative necessity of good works.
The Apostle James devoted much of his Epistle to the exposing of any empty profession. In his second chapter, particularly, he addresses himself unto those who rested in a notion which they called “faith,” accounting an intellectual assent to the truth of the Gospel sufficient for their salvation, though it had no spiritual influence upon their hearts, tempers, or conduct. The Apostle shows their hope was a vain one, and that their“faith” was not a whit superior to that possessed by the demons. From the example of Abraham he proves that justifying faith is a very different thing from the “faith” of empty professors, because it enabled him to perform the hardest and most painful act of obedience, even the offering up of his only son upon the altar; which act took place many years after he had been justified by God, and which act manifested the reality and nature of his faith.” (Ibid)
Whereas the justification in the first instance is that of our standing before God, that in the second instance is sort of, the justification of our justification. It is the demonstration in our lives that God’s declared (forensic) justification is a reality. And so we must ask ourselves, Is this evidence present in my life? As we are concerned with the promise of God, are we equally concerned that there is evidence that it has been applied to us? This is not a justification by works in any way, accept as an authentication of our justification by faith. It is also not in any way contrary to what the Apostle Paul taught. He told the Ephesian Believers, “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.” (Eph 2:8-9, ESV) We saw this passage earlier as a proof for the idea that faith is a gift from God and that it expels the idea of human claims to any merit. But the Apostle continues, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10, ESV) So we know that salvation is by grace through faith, and that it results in a life of good works because that is the way that God has ordained that it would be. The connection between sanctification and justification is demonstrative. He made us and He made us to a purpose. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” If we are, we will fulfill our purpose.
Those good works are often rooted in love for one another. This is the example that James gives us, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jam 2:14-17, ESV) Again Pink says, “Observe carefully that the Apostle does not here ask, “What doth it profit a man though he hath faith and have not works?”—such a supposition is nowhere countenanced by the Word of God: it were to suppose the impossibility for wherever real faith exists, good works necessarily follow. No, instead he asks, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man (not “one of you”!) say he hath faith”? Professing to be a Christian when a man is not one, may secure a standing among men, improve his moral and social prestige, obtain membership in a “church,” and promote his commercial interests; but can it save his soul?” (Ibid)
Love and care for the brethren is supposed to be the mark of the Christian. Love is the essence of Jesus’ address and prayer which He gave on the night of His betrayal in John 13-17. There He used the words love and loved some 30 times and He even compared God’s love for His people to the love that the Father has for the Son. One of my many favorite verses is John 17:26 which says, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ ” To imagine being the target of God’s love rather than of His wrath (which we deserve) has to change our hearts! It has to produce love in us as the recipients of His great love. This is born out as Jesus address a man named Simon, a Pharisee, who had Him over for lunch. As He was dining there, a woman came to Him and anointed His feet with costly perfume and washed His feet with her hair. Simon thought within himself that Jesus could not be a prophet because he did not recognize this woman as a sinner. As a result, Jesus told a parable about two men who were both forgiven a debt, One owed a year-and-a-half’s wages and the other a month-and-a-half’s. He asked Simon, which would love his master more? Simon replied, “The one for whom he canceled the larger debt.” Thus the currency of the redeemed is Love and so, Jesus says of the woman, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luk 7:47, ESV)
Is love the currency with which you and I trade? If it is not, then we must ask whether we have the currency (and the citizenship that accompanies it) of the Kingdom of God. Can we look with contempt upon our brother because he does not hold to our personal standard? Will we refuse fellowship with one for whom Christ died because we don’t like the style of his clothes or of his music? Will we publicly criticize him for the size of his church building, or its configuration, when he is holding to the same Gospel that we are? Much of the world looks with contempt upon the Church because so much of the Church looks with contempt upon one another! I realize that there are many within what is called the Church who are not holding to the basics of the Gospel and are really outside of the Church. I am not claiming undiscerning inclusion of those who preach another Gospel. Yet, I wonder how much differently the world would see us if we could just extend general love and hospitality to one another who are within the pale of orthodoxy?
There may be some in the Reformed camp who say that it does not matter, that God has already chosen His elect and our behavior is superfluous. Yet, I would remind you that we understand that God has ordained the end as well as the means. Christ has commanded us to love one another (John 13:34, 15:12, Rom 12:10, 1 Pet 1:22), to serve one another (Gal 5:13, 1 Pe 4:10) and even to love our enemies (Mat 5:44) and as He prayed for the Church of all ages he said to the Father, ““I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23, ESV) We are a reflection of the love of God. Though a man does not see nor perceive God in the darkness and the deadness of his sin, we are here as the Church to demonstrate that love to the entire world. Pink says, “’Faith worketh by love” (Gal 5:6). The first “fruit of the spirit,” that is of the new nature in the regenerated soul, is “love” (Gal 5:22). When faith has truly been wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, that faith is manifested in love—love toward God, love toward His commandments (John 14:23), love toward the brethren, love toward our fellow-creatures. Therefore in testing the “faith” of the empty professor, the Apostle at once puts to the proof his love. In showing the pretense of his love, he proves the worthlessness of his “faith.” “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17)! Genuine love is operative; so is genuine faith.” (Ibid)
And so, how do we demonstrate the vital truth of the Bible to the world and the Church as they look on? We do it by demonstrating our faith through our obedience, by keeping the commands of Christ, primarily the command for the redeemed to love one another. Without this fruit of the Spirit in our lives we will convince neither the world, nor our brothers in Christ and I doubt whether we will sincerely convince ourselves of the reality of our faith. Again, Pink tells us, “The faith which reposes on Christ is not an idle, but an active and fruitful principle. Abraham had been justified many years before (Gen. 15:6); the offering up of Isaac (Gen. 22) was the open attestation of his faith and the manifestation of the sincerity of his profession. “By works was faith made perfect” means, in actual obedience it reaches its designed end, the purpose for which it was given is realized.” (Ibid) Works then, bring our faith to where God designed it to be, faith must be acted upon.
This was a big part of the problem in the mid 1800’s when the “anticlerical” spirit arose in this nation. The pastors were living above the station of the average man and were often times more inclined to spend their money on personal comfort rather than reaching the lost and ministering to the poor. They could have avoided this plague on the Church that resulted in the greater plague of rejecting orthodoxy if they had listened to one of their own as he wrote in 1656 warning ministers of this very thing! “When you are studying what to say to your people, if you have any concern for their souls, you will oft be thinking with yourself, How shall I get within them? and what shall I say, that is most likely to convince them, and convert them, and promote their salvation!’ And should you not as diligently think with yourself, How shall I live, and what shall I do, and how shall I dispose of all that I have, as may most tend to the saving of men’s souls?’ Brethen, if the saving of souls be your end, you will certainly intend it out of the pulpit as well as in it! If it be your end, you will live for it, and contribute all your endeavors to attain it. You will ask concerning the money in your purse, as well as concerning the word of your mouth, In what way shall I lay it out for the greatest good, especially to men’s souls?’ Oh that this were your daily study, how to use your wealth, your friends, and all you have for God, as well as your tongues! Then should we see that fruit of your labors, which is never else like to be seen. If you intend the end of the ministry in the pulpit only, it would seem you take yourselves for ministers no longer than you are there. And, if so, I think you are unworthy to be esteemed ministers at all.” (The Reformed Pastor )
Again, this is nothing new. The Church flourished in the Roman empire in the first three centuries for this very reason and if it is to flourish again it will be because men’s faith has come to fruition in their works, because we as sinners, saved by grace, acknowledge who we are and where we have come from and how we got there and we respond with a love that is unmatched in any other place on this planet! Therefore, I see the remedy to our present situation to be the same as it was when Pink and Machen wrote, the same as it was when Baxter wrote and the same as it was when Calvin and Augustine wrote, even as it is displayed on the pages of the New Testament. Therefore, we must proclaim the same truths that they proclaimed. That man is born, dead in sin, that he has no hope unless and until the Spirit of God opens his heart to receive the Gospel and the it is a great act of gratuitous mercy, not only that God sent His Son into the world to identify with us in our humanity and to become our Federal Head, but that through Him He can impute His perfect righteousness to our account and our sins upon Him. Our heinous, selfish, loathsome rebellious sin that is born out of our nature to rebel that we inherited from our forefather, Adam is taken away and replaced by His perfect life. When we finally receive that most basic of truths it will affect us in such a way as to bring about God’s desired end, good works. Not merely helping old ladies across the street, but genuine care and fellowship, a willingness to suffer and sacrifice for the benefit of those to whom God has given us as ministers.
This is only accomplished as we live out the Faith as it was given to us. Living with a “solid and stable peace,” and a “clear understanding of the exceeding riches of Divine grace,” that is based upon our own helplessness and God’s actions that allow Him to pronounce us righteous without tainting His justice. Therefore, the road out of this present darkness is the road of the complete and unashamed Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is necessary for us to continue to uphold this vital truth in the face of all opposition, whether in the Church or in the world. But it is also necessary that we take hold of the intended fruit of holding this truth, that we attain the end prescribed by God, which is a life of good works. It is necessary that we begin to use all of our resources, as Baxter enjoined the pastors of his day, to tend to the salvation of the souls of men. That means that we need to step out of our comfort zone and live for Christ rather than for self. It means, though we are saved by grace through faith, that faith without works is dead. It means that although we may know how justification works, we must see it at work before we can claim it for our own.
“O the purity of that holiness which chose rather to punish the sins of the elect in His only begotten Son, than suffer them to go unpunished! O the abyss of His love to the world, for which He spared not His dearest Son, in order to spare sinners! O the depth of the riches of unsearchable wisdom, by which He exercises mercy towards the penitent guilty, without any stain to the honor of the most impartial Judge! O the treasures of love in Christ, whereby He became a curse for us, in order to deliver us therefrom! How becoming the justified soul, who is ready to dissolve in the sense of this love, with full exultation to sing a new song, a song of mutual return of love to a justifying God.” (Introduction)
Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. New York: American Tract Society, 1656. 105. Print.
Finney, Charles G. Systematic Theology. Whittier, CA: Colporter Kemp, 1878. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. Web. 23 Aug. 2011.
Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991. Print.
Mohler, Albert. Blog: AlbertMohler.com. Louisville, KY: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011. N. pag. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. Web. 23 Aug. 2011.
Pink, Arthur W. Doctrine of Justification. Online ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2005. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. Web. 15 Aug. 2011.