(Article for publication week of 9-19- AD 2012)
“Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;” (Romans 3:24-25).
The Reformers used to say, that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Alone. Of course the True Church was preaching and teaching these things long before the Reformation, as the pre- Reformation confessions of such groups as the Waldenses will show. (If any of you would like to know more of how the gospel was preached and maintained in the centuries before the Reformation, I have a wealth of information in my library that I would love to share with you. I’d love for you to come drink a cup of coffee or a glass of ice tea with me, and we can visit in the things of the Lord.) Be that as it may, we are thankful for men like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and so many others that the Lord used to declare these truths so powerfully back in the sixteenth century, although, we repeat for emphasis, that the true church was preaching these things all along, and the Lord did not leave Himself without a witness during the centuries between the death of the Apostles and the Reformation.
This glorious gospel of “grace alone, faith alone, Christ Alone” is clearly set forth in our text this week. At first glance, it appears that this is a contradictory statement, to say three different things “alone” justify us. But as we shall see, it is not contradictory at all, but rather it is looking at justification from three different aspects. Note well, I did not say that there are different ways that a man is justified, but I said, it is three different aspects of justification.
Justified by grace, justified by faith, and justified by Christ are three different ways of saying the same thing. When we say “justified by grace”, we are speaking of the moving cause of justification. It was the free and sovereign grace of God that moved Him to justify and save His people. The cause of justification is found completely in God and His grace, and not of anything found in the elect sinner. We see this in the expression “justified freely by His grace”. We have written on this before, but for emphasis, clarity, and for the sake of those who missed previous articles, I remind you the word translated “freely” in our text means “without a cause”. There is no cause in us for God to save us; the cause is in His Divine, sovereign, and free grace.
When we say “justified by Christ”, we are speaking of the grounds of our justification. Our text this week says plainly, “His righteousness”. The whole and sole grounds of salvation is in the righteousness of Christ, worked out by Him Alone by His active and passive obedience (See Jeremiah 23:6,e.g., and previous Narrow Way articles). Again, this is another way of saying justified by grace, because it is by Christ’s imputed righteousness that a sinner is saved without any works, merits, or efforts on the sinner’s part.
When we say, “justified by faith”, we speak of the instrumentality of justification. Our text this week says “through faith”. It is by faith alone that the elect sinner receives the justifying righteousness of Christ. Faith is the only channel through which grace flows. This is another way of saying “saved by grace” (see Roman 4:16), for the elect sinner is justified by Christ, the object of saving faith, and faith is actually a gracious gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
To quickly summarize this week’s message, let me state it again, and ask you to pay particular attention to the use of our English pronouns. “Justification is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ Alone.” The slight nuances of the use of our English pronouns in this sentence summarizes well the Biblical way of justification in its moving cause, instrumentality and sole grounds. And all of this is discovered in scripture alone, and is to the glory of God Alone.