Justification by Faith is Dead

Upon leaving Christian Philosophy class somewhat perturbed and despairing after having listened to the teachings of Scripture trampled by the philosophies of men again, I came to a sad realization, namely that we as Modern American and Evangelical Christians have absolutely lost the great doctrine of Justification by Faith. I am sure that there are many who are standing by quick to object to such a charge, but I am fully convinced that the justification by faith that we preach today is not the same Justification by Faith that was heralded by the great reformer Martin Luther neither does it resemble anything taught by Christ or the apostles. Additionally, since this great doctrine is by necessity one of the great pillars of the Christian religion, its loss has had profound effects on subservient doctrines, so much so that our tainted minds cannot even begin to fathom the depths of their distortion. I am not quite sure of the goal of my writing this, for I am nearly convinced that we are so blinded by our presuppositions on the matter so as to beyond retrieval. I pray that God might grant grace to me as I write and to you, the reader, as you think upon this most weighty of doctrines.

Justification by Acceptance rather than Justification by Faith
As those who claim to be Evangelical Christians–those who bear the very word Gospel (euangelion) in our self-made title, one would think that we would be quite sure about the Gospel to which we claim such allegiance. Yet in spite of our nominal allegiance, we find in modern Evangelical Christianity in place of the Gospel call given exclusively in Scripture by Christ and the apostles, namely, “Believe and repent!”, there is now almost exclusively the call: “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and ask him into your heart.”

What ought to be quite startling is that the phrase we have so endeared—”Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior” is never used by anyone in the New Testament. Never. And this is not merely a point of semantics, for “accepting Jesus Christ” and “believing in Jesus Christ” are not synonymous phrases. In fact, they are quite different, and its shift is indicative of the philosophical shift that has occurred within the Western Church.

The Propagation of Free-Will Philosophy
If you think just for a second about the differences between “accepting” something and “believing in” something, it becomes quite apparent why the shift in language has changed from that of the Bible and the reformers. “Accepting” something by necessity demands an act of the will. It is an exertion. It is a work. It, in its connotation, is an evaluation of possible choices and choosing that which is most advantageous to the soul. In the case of modern evangelism, it is demonstrating to a person that life with Jesus is better than life without Jesus and to convince that person to say a prayer that “seals the deal” and causes the Holy Spirit give birth to him. The great majority of modern evangelism works in this way, be it done in “Hell, fire, and brimstone” presentations or in pretty tracts that purport an abundant life in Christ.

On the other hand, faith or belief in something is quite different from accepting something. Faith is not an exertion of the will. Faith is not a choice. It is a natural ascent to that which is true because one knows it to be true. For example, one believes that the sun will rise in the morning, because he has experienced a sunrise every day of his life and thereby knows that it will rise again. Faith in Jesus Christ is no different than faith in the rising sun. One believes that Jesus Christ is Lord because he has experienced Jesus Christ. He believes in Jesus Christ because Christ had shown himself to him. Just as Paul on the Damascus road saw Christ because Christ burst out of heaven and revealed himself to him, and then Paul by necessity believed, so God shines “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor. 4:6), and we believe.

Faith, therefore, is by its nature a natural reaction to a supernatural revelation. Just as a tap on the knee with a rubber hammer produces a reflexive kick, so God’s revelation of himself to a man creates in that man faith.

For this very reason, Scripture does not hesitate to say at some times that a man is justified by faith and at others that he justified by the work of Christ. For faith is not work that adds to the work of Christ, but it is the natural reaction of the revelation to our hearts that God has set us apart for himself through Jesus Christ. The apostle calls this action by God the “circumcision of the heart by the Spirit” in Romans 2:29, for we who were once far off have been brought under the Covenant and set apart for holiness and obedience through the work of Christ so that he might be the firstborn of many brothers (cf. Rm. 8:29).

Acceptance: Making Faith a Work
As we discussed earlier, the great difference between “acceptance” and “faith” is that the former is an exertion by reason and the latter is an affirmation of what one sees and experiences. The shift in language from the biblical and reformational “Believe and repent” to the present “Accept Jesus as your personal Savior” is an accommodation to human philosophy not to greater understanding of biblical truth. Our post-Enlightenment and American minds are so destroyed by our thoughts of liberty and pursuits of happiness that we cannot begin to grasp doctrines that teach otherwise. So instead of being transformed by the renewal of our minds by Holy Scripture (cf. Rm. 12:2), we are conformed to the philosophies of this world and attempt to ram the triangular peg of Scripture through the square hole of human philosophy.

Therefore in today’s context, faith is no longer a meritless assent to the work of the Almighty, but it is the work of our souls “to get right” with God. Despite clear teachings to the contrary, we explain away texts that do not fit our philosophies (and never explain them for that matter), or we avoid them altogether. We then take the analogies and pictures that Scripture gives us to show our whole dependence of God, and we twist them so as to make us the meritors rather than the meritees. If, for example, we were confronted by Nicodemus today and were asked to give instruction as to how the old man might be born again, we would not answer like Christ, who said “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8), but we would say, “Accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and then you will be born again.” You know, just as we accepted our parents as our personal parents before we were born the first time around.

For this reason, we cannot comprehend what the apostle writes in Romans 3, “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. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (vv. 27, 28). We cannot comprehend this saying, because we can boast in what we call “faith.” If faith is truly looking at the option of Jesus Christ and looking at other options and accepting Jesus as our Savior on our own accord, then we do have something to boast in. We can say of ourselves, “We were more intuitive than those who do not believe,” “We are more predisposed to godliness than unsaved Jane over there,” “We are just smarter than every atheist that is on the planet,” etc. But if faith is, as John Piper put it, merely the cry of a newborn child of God, then we have as much reason to boast in our faith and salvation as a newborn has in crying and being born.

Next: The Doctrinal Ramifications of the Death of Justification by Faith



Categories: Theology

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7 replies

  1. I rejoice that you explaining the oft-overlooked differences betwixt what and how fundamentals are preached in church and what and how they are given in the Bible. Indeed, our terminology–lingo, even–causes more harm than good when it is not accurately based on Scripture and runs the risk of conveying the wrong idea (e.g. "accept and invite" instead of "believe and repent").

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  2. I entirely agree. It would not hurt us to criticize every word that we think we "know." It's amazing how entrenched we all are in our own personal philosophies and religions, so much so that we cannot see these things. Thanks as always for your input, brother.

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  3. I thank God for you my dear brother, for your holy jealousy for the glory of God and for love for the finished work of our Lord Jesus.I have been greatly encouraged and very blessed by what you have written may God continue to use you for his glory,your brother Adrian

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  4. Thank you, brother, for your encouraging words. May the Lord bless you in your living to glorify him.

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  5. Another good word here brother. But if you would allow me to clarify one thing. You wrote,

    "Faith is not a choice. It is a natural ascent to that which is true because one knows it to be true. For example, one believes that the sun will rise in the morning, because he has experienced a sunrise every day of his life and thereby knows that it will rise again. Faith in Jesus Christ is no different than faith in the rising sun."

    Faith is more than a mere assent to certain propositional truths about Christ. This is another pitfall the modern church as gotten into (even some good churches!). There are basically three elements of saving faith. They are Notia (Knowledge), Assensus (Assent), and Fiducia (Trust). A person can have both knowledge and assent to the person and work of Christ, but still not trust in Jesus to save him. Satan knows very well who Jesus is, and can even assent to these truths propositionally (like to the rising of the sun), but he's certainly not trusting in Christ. Therein lies the distinction between a bare knowledge of Christ, and a faith that is resting and trusting in God. It isn't our faith that saves us, but rather, the object of our faith.

    Allow me one short example of what I mean. I can look out over a runway at an airport as see airplanes taking off and landing every few minutes. I can know (notia) planes take off, fly, and land every day. I can even assent (assensus) to the truth that if I got on one, that it would take me where I want to go. But until I actually get on a plane and trust (fiducia) it to carry me, I have not put my faith in it. Much in the same way, until Christ becomes the sole object of our faith, and we're resting and trusting in Him alone for salvation, we have not exercised saving faith.

    So when you call faith 'assent' to the truth – that is correct. But it's much more than that beloved – saving faith is actually resting and trusting in Christ to save you from your sins. Blessings to you.

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  6. I have to agree with you, brother, to an extent. I perhaps could have used a better word than "assent," but since I did use it, I will stick with it. I suppose that "assent" could merely be relegated to lip-service, but the assent of which I am speaking is genuine comprehension of truth and concession to that knowledge. As for humans and demons, they respond differently. Demons assent, and they shudder; humans assent, and they obey. It is what Paul called the "obedience of faith" in Romans 1:5, that belief in Christ brings about trust, obedience, etc. And the example that I gave about assent to rising sun was deliberate, because of the magnitude of the sun, an assent to it changes our lives and our actions. Likewise a genuine assent to Christ and his work by humans (demons are another matter, obviously) naturally has the three components you mentioned. It is as James said, "Faith without works is dead," or my paraphrase, "If you claim to have faith and yet it does not transform you and your actions, you do not have faith."

    I think I would like the airplane analogy a bit more if one assented that there were a plane and that there was a runway on which that plane lands at 3 p.m. and because of that belief he does not stand in the runway at 3 p.m. A person who says he believes that there is a plane and that it is landing on the runway at 3 p.m. and yet stands in the runway at 3 p.m. is either a liar or he wants to die.;)

    However, I think we agree in principle and disagree in semantics. And I probably could have chosen my words better recognizing their connotation to some. Faith transforms a soul, whether it is called assent, trust, knowledge, belief, or whatever. Faith that does not produce actions that accord with it is not faith. I wouldn't even call it assent. It is lip-service and hypocrisy.

    Thank you, brother, for pointing out that which I overlooked. I hope I was able to clarify what I meant by what I wrote. I will try to pick my words more wisely in the future. Grace and peace.

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  7. Thank you friend for your clarifying remarks. May God's gift of faith lead you towards more good works! Blessings.

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