Justification: How We Are Saved
Works Righteousness and Legalism versus Imputed Righteousness
“I’ve tried my entire life to keep all the rules and was so deadened staring at a mean, vindictive God who handed out more rules for ‘comfort’.” —-a Church of Christ sister in Phoenix
First, some comments about this topic, then the questions. The CC seems to think that other professing Christians are lax in obedience. That may be so. A true saving faith must be a living faith (James 2). There is little room in the Christian faith for “easy-believism” which could be defined as turning one’s back on clearly understood biblical instruction. Certainly, the believer should seek to conform his life to the will of God as best as he understands it.
Faith implies faithfulness. The New Testament speaks often of such concepts as the obedience of faith. The protestant reformers put it this way: Salvation is through faith alone, but not through a faith that is alone. So, we stand with you in attempting to overcome the shallow view of easy-believism in Christianity.
RT – A few remarks that are appropriate to these sentiments. Where in the New Testament is it ever recorded that a person is justified by faith alone. Identify only one passage if there is one. I know more of this sentiment of yours will be along this line, but this is the question that needs to be addressed.
As we will point out below, we get conflicting opinions from Church of Christ folks that visit our website. Some insist that we are saved only by grace and then go on to explain that our obedience is required to earn God’s grace. Others flatly say that we do not even need the righteousness of Christ at all to be saved. So we conclude that the Church of Christ misunderstands the biblical concept of justification.
Justification is the process by which God declares us righteous even though we are not! Put another way, justification is the authoritative declaration that a person’s status is changed. As theologian Sinclair Ferguson says in his short but powerful book The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction, “God does not justify us because of what we are or what we have done. The whole point of Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18-3:20 is to demonstrate the sheer impossibility of such an event. Rather than justification, it is divine wrath which man has merited.”
Ferguson continues: “The only basis for justification which the New Testament recognises is the work of Christ….The love of God is the source of our justification, but the death of Christ is its grounds. We ‘have now been justified by his blood’ (Romans 5:9); the result of his obedient life and death is our justification (Romans 5:18); just as he was delivered over to death for our sins he was raised for our justification (Roman 4:25)….and ‘through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many will be made righteous’ (Romans 5:19)….He [Jesus] came voluntarily under the curse of God, in order to set us at liberty from it (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13-14).”
Ferguson further reminds us that even the Old Testament saints were not justified by works of the law: “The law was introduced 430 years after Abraham had received God’s promise and was justified by faith! In fact, the Law was ‘added’ (Galatians 3:19), it ‘came in by the side door’ Romans 5:20), and was given in order to make men see how necessary dependence on the promise of justification is!”
Indeed, Ferguson clarifies that indeed it is not even because of faith that we are justified—faith being merely the instrument or the channel (Romans 4:16;Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved by grace. The conclusion must be that if a man is justified by grace, it is impossible that he be justified by works of any kind. Just as Abraham was not justified by any work of the Law, neither are we today justified by any “Law of Christ” which is a set of rules that replaces the Old Covenant.
RT – Since there is no “church of Christ” position, only a Bible position, I will now address your remarks. Ferguson’s remarks are fine (except for the “side door” remark), but he is the wrong authority that you reference. Your commentary remarks following the author you quote are terribly mistaken. First, how does Paul use the word “works” in Romans 3? Second, if what you said is accurate with regard to what you have attributed to Ferguson that it is not even because of faith that we are justified, then this flies directly in the face of (and against) the Holy Spirit (Habakkuk 2:4; Ephesians 2:8) – strange that you would include the passage after such a remark. Third, justified by “works of any kind”? Evidently, Jesus was mistaken, wasn’t He (John 6:29)? However, two paragraphs below my remarks have you negating what you just affirmed!
In trying to explain the impossibility of adding works to grace for justification, it is argued that those accepting Church of Christ theology are not doing ENOUGH to satisfy God! How so? Tim Keller in his book The Reason for God explains how a legalist he knows came to understand the problem. He says that a certain young woman began attending his church who grew up in a church that taught that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message of the true gospel was scary. When asked why, she responded: “If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with ‘rights’—I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by sheer grace—then there’s nothing he cannot ask of me.”
Yes, works are necessary for salvation; but not our works—rather the work of Christ! While our works are a test of our spiritual hearing, they are the result of our salvation not a cause of it. We will spend the rest of this section attempting to demonstrate this.
“The passage that convinced me that we in the Church of Christ were thinking wrongly towards the New Testement was the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). It was the tax collector who was justified rather the pharisee (who was doing everything perfectly)!” —-Monty
RT – Since “works are necessary for salvation” and those works can’t be our own, but the Lord’s, is the command of God for man to believe a work of man or a work of God (Hebrews 11:6)?