(This is the sixth part of John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification. In this article he discusses the Evangelical way of justification)
Faith → Justification + Works
There is the gospel in its glory, or rather in His (Christ’s) glory. Strictly speaking, you see, justification is not even by faith alone—it is by Christ alone. What is meant by saying sola fide (by faith alone) is not that our God-given faith can save (where works cannot), but that faith unites with Christ who alone saves. Sola fide = solo Christo! The faith, because it unites with Christ, justifies immediately by virtue of that union. Though works operate at the same time that faith does (the plus sign refers to distinction, not separation), they are placed after justification because they contribute nothing to justification. It is Rome’s placing works before justification that destroys justification and makes it even impossible.
When my daughter was 13, I was discussing justification with her. I told her that I taught a course at the seminary on Catholicism and the Council of Trent. It was very technical at points, and some of the debates were very close-grained and academic. A 13-year-old could easily get lost in them, I told her. But, I said to her (and to you), the issue is at heart extremely simple. It could be stated this way:
Who saves Judy? Is it Judy and Jesus? Or is it Jesus only?
I said to her (and I say to you), Judy, if you get in on the act you will be lost. It is Jesus only or there is no justification for Judy—or you.
But you ask, isn’t Judy supposed to be “in on the act,” that is, doing good works? Indeed she must be, or she is an antinomian and all is lost that way. One can lose justification many ways, but there is only one way he can have it. I told my daughter that she must be following in Christ’s footsteps, seeking to obey Him from the heart in all things without ever for a moment thinking there is any merit in anything she does.
And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt ‘‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax-gather, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other (Luke 18:9–14).
The publican of whom Christ spoke could only cry out for mercy, but he “went down to his house justified.” Suppose he was 30 when he went down to his house justified, and lived, after returning all that he had stolen, another 50 years of exemplary Christian service. Suppose he went up to that temple and prayed again. It would be the same prayer: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
Dear reader, I have briefly discussed the most important issue in the world today—or any day. How can a man be right with God? Every religion except Christianity teaches justification by works (of one kind or another). Only Christianity teaches justification by faith alone. Alas, many professed teachers of Christianity preach another gospel of justification, which is not another and will never justify anyone.
It is a matter of eternal life or eternal death that you know the truth that can make you free of sin. You cannot be saved without it. But you can be lost with it. That is, if you know but do not believe (with a working faith), you will be like the servant who knew the master’s will but did not do it. Therefore, he was beaten with ‘‘many stripes.’’
Truth is a dangerous possession. If you do not cleave to it, it will abhor you. Only the orthodox are saved, but none are so deep in hell as the orthodox (who have the truth when the truth does not have them). You are either the better or much the worse for having read this little book. If it only convinces you of your false ways and one true way, you are the wiser but none the better, and, therefore, are much the worse. If, however, you from the heart cry out, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!” you will put down this tract justified. And we shall rejoice together forever that to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
Amen and amen!
Excerpted from Primitive Theology by John H. Gerstner.
So far in this series Dr. Gerstner has provided an Introduction and has written of the Liberal View of Justification, The Neoorthodox Way of Justification, The Antinomian Way of Justification and The Roman Catholic View of Justification.