| Justification by Faith: It's a Matter of Life and Death|
Justification by Faith: It's A Matter of Life and Death
There have been few doctrines that have been more hotly disputed, nor few doctrines that have been so heavily defended, as the doctrine of justification by faith. It is not the purpose of this essay to give a full survey of the ins & outs of this doctrine as contained within the Scriptures, nor is it the purpose of this essay to survey the historical arguments for or against this doctrine. Rather, the purpose of this essay is simply to show how where one stands in regard to this doctrine is a matter of life and death. In order to understand why this is the case, we will now turn to one of the greatest passages cited as proof of this doctrine, and attempt to understand how Paul was stating something that was more than a mere theological truth that was being used to formulate part of some abstract doctrine.
Justification By Faith Alone
Paul was interested in visiting the Church in Rome while on his way to Spain, so as to preach the gospel where he had yet to preach it, and obtain some fruit from the Gentiles there. Being that he was the "the apostle to the Gentiles," such was a fitting thing that he sought to do, as Rome was the capital of everything Gentile. However, before coming he wished to establish the credibility of his ministry with the Roman Church, and he did so by setting forth the gospel that he had been preaching.
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (NASB)
Starting in Romans 1:16, Paul explains that he is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the very power of God for the salvation of whosoever should believe it. Since, as Jesus said, "Salvation is of the Jews," (John 4:22) the apostle Paul states that there is a Jewish priority in regard to the gospel-- it is "to the Jew first." But, while the Jews have priority in regard to the gospel message, Paul wants his Roman readers to understand that the Gentiles also are included as intended recipients of God's saving message-- it is "also to the Greek". For God had said to Abraham, "In you all the families of the earth will be blessed." (Genesis 12:3) Thus, while God gave priority to bestowing blessing upon Abraham, it was for the purpose that he would "be a blessing," (Genesis 12:2) and that "blessing" is to be found in nothing less than the saving power of the gospel message itself, which has come also to the Gentiles.
Romans 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."
The gospel message, Paul says, expresses the very righteousness of God in each individual who has faith in the God who saves. One might ask, how does God demonstrate His righteousness through the faith of the individual? He does so by showing that all of our good works amount for nothing, and that He alone is able to do anything for us so that we might be saved. As Paul goes on to demonstrate in the next couple chapters of Romans, all of mankind is in need of saving, because all of mankind has sinned and fallen short of the God's glory. Man finds himself in a predicament in which he can do nothing to save himself, for it is his very self that is the problem to begin with. Crippled by his sin, man is unable to pull himself out of the very grave he has dug.
Thus, all the good he might attempt to do will forever amount to nothing of saving value. Mankind is sold to the sentence of death, whereby if there is any hope for him to escape the judgment that is to come, the way of escape must be offered through Another. Thus, Paul goes on to argue in Romans 5 that the accomplishments of Jesus Christ alone have salvific value. As important as good works are, and as important as a repentant heart is, these things can do nothing to bring about justification with God. We are not saved through personal obedience to God's law, for as Paul makes abundantly clear: "through one act of righteousness there resulted justification." (Romans 5:18) There is only one act of righteousness that merits salvation in God's sight, and that was the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Therefore, since it was "through the obedience of the One" that salvation was made possible (Romans 5:19), God's righteousness is demonstrated "from faith to faith." (Romans 5:17) For faith agrees with what God has done in Christ, and confesses that all our good works amount to nothing more than "filthy rags," which are unable to do what Christ has done. All our works will never do what the "one act" did. When there is only one act that matters, there is room for nothing else but faith. Not faith plus works, not faith plus circumcision, not faith plus water baptism, not faith plus paying tithes, not faith plus tongue talking, but rather, faith plus nothing. It is by faith, and faith alone.
Why It's a Matter of Life and Death
Having quickly established the doctrine of justification by faith alone from Romans, I would like to examine a little closer a quote Paul makes from Habakkuk 2:4. This quote found in Romans 1:17, "But the righteous man shall live by faith," has a significant background that I believe often gets overlooked. Indeed, once one understands the context that this utterance by Habakkuk was made in, one will see why this issue is a matter of life and death. And once that is seen, one will understand why Paul went to such great lengths to make sure that no notions of works based salvation ever entered the gospel message.
Habakkuk is a little known prophet from the Old Testament who lived a generation or two before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. In his book, Habakkuk is troubled by the injustice and lawlessness that abounds in Judah, and how unrighteousness just seems to flourish everywhere. While making a lamentation to the Lord, God suddenly answers Habakkuk with a startling message: The vicious Chaldean army will soon be raised up to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem. Protesting, Habakkuk argues with God that such is simply unfair. As wicked as Judah is, the Babylonians are far more wicked. Indeed, they are so wicked that they ignorantly make an idol out of the weapons of their warfare, and offer sacrifices to them. Surely God will not use such a people to judge His own people, would He?
In response the Lord says:
Record the vision, and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:2-3)
The Lord reaffirms His message to Habakkuk: Judah will be punished. He says the time has not yet come for this punishment, but be sure, the time is coming. The prophet is thus ordered by the Lord to write this message down on stone for future generations to read, so that the one who reads it in the day of God's judgment may run for his very life. Indeed, for that generation this word will literally become a matter of life and death. The prophecy continues:
Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by His faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)
There is hope for the one living in the land when the day of judgment finally does come. His life will be saved, but it will be saved only by faith. For the day was coming when armies would surround Jerusalem and cast a violent siege against it, and flood the land with an unstoppable army that consists of violent savages who have an appetite that is never satisfied. With this in mind, the only hope one could have for his life to be saved in those days, so as to allow him to be saved from the impending slaughter, is to ultimately trust in the Lord by faith alone, for salvation.
Indeed, as history unfolded, Judah tried many different ways to avert the impending doom. Various political alliances were formed, many radical actions were taken by the people, and many animal sacrifices were made in the temple. Yet, none of these acts secured the salvation of God's people from the Babylonian army. Finally the day came when Babylon would lay a final siege against Jerusalem, surrounding the city with her armies, making it impossible for the people to come out of the city to get food. The siege lasted two years, and after the food supply ran out, many people were reduced to cannibalism. It is in this context that the words of Habakkuk were to be realized. For in those days, the way of salvation would be by faith, and faith alone. For faith, in those days, is all that they would have had to live on. There simply would be no room for works.
It is the context of Habakkuk's oracle, that Paul quotes from, which formed the underlying argument he would assert in his epistle to the Romans for justification by faith. Salvation is by faith, and faith alone. Just as no amount of works could save the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the judgment that was to come, so it is the same for us, that no amount of good works can save us from the judgment that is to come. Judgment is coming, and it cannot be averted. Therefore, the only thing that can save one from the wrath that is to come is faith, and faith alone.
The role faith played in salvation, as Habakkuk and Paul understood it, was more than just as a mere mental ascent that was part of some magical salvation formula. Rather, to them, faith was a radical disposition and trust in the Lord alone for salvation. He alone can save. For Habakkuk's readers, to miss it here would spell certain death. But to genuinely grasp it would mean life. Let us therefore understand, to miss what the apostle Paul said here spells certain death. But to genuinely grasp it will mean certain life. This truly is then, a matter of life and death. The just shall live by faith.
| 2008/10/22 0:50||Profile|
| Re: Justification by Faith: It's a Matter of Life and Death|
Good to see you on this solid ground! I think the passage you quote in Habakkuk has an extra significance that is often missed in the doctrine of justification by faith. I am referring to the principle of 'definition by opposite'; simply the idea that sometimes you can pick up the significance of a word by considering its opposite. This is where the Habakkuk reference is so telling...
[color=0000FF] Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith. Hab 2:4 NKJV[/color]
The contrast is not with between 'faith' and 'unbelief' as we might have expected but between 'faith' and 'pride'. We need to revert to the old KJV to pick it up...
[color=0000FF]Behold, his soul which is [u]lifted up[/u] is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. Hab 2:4 KJVS[/color]
This 'lifted up' word is only used twice in the OT and the other incident is significant. It is the word [url=http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H6075&t=KJV]aphal (Strong's H6075)[/url] and the other place it is used is in...[color=0000FF] But they [u]presumed[/u] to go up to the mountaintop. Nevertheless, neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses departed from the camp. Num 14:44 NKJV[/color] and here it is translated 'presumed'. The word means to 'swell up' and is linked to the Semitic word for a tumour. Apparently the opposite of humble, trusting faith is a swollen, malignant, imitation of genuine life called 'presumption'. Such 'fake faith' can indeed have fatal consequences if unrecognized and untreated.
The incident of Numbers 14 is poignant. They had the word of God, but it was out of date. It is not the 'doctrine' of justification by faith which brings God's salvation but the humble reliance upon God's faithfulness as revealed in his gift of his Son as a propitiation. Christ is the Saviour not the doctrine. I do sometimes wonder how much 'presumption' substitutes for genuine faith in the evangelical movement...
| 2008/10/22 9:51||Profile|
| Re: Justification by Faith: It's a Matter of Life and Death|
Thanks for posting this, brother. This is truly a matter of life and death.
| 2008/10/22 12:37||Profile|
Good to hear from you again.
It is not the 'doctrine' of justification by faith which brings God's salvation but the humble reliance upon God's faithfulness as revealed in his gift of his Son as a propitiation. Christ is the Saviour not the doctrine. I do sometimes wonder how much 'presumption' substitutes for genuine faith in the evangelical movement...
Indeed. The "doctrines" are only descriptions of actual realitites. It's a fearful thing when men simply rattle off doctrines and make them part of formulas. As Jesus said, "Why do you call me Lord, but do not do what I say?" In such instances, "Lord" is merely a doctrinal statement lacking reality. The confession of Jesus as Lord is empty and hollow unless there is a corresponding reality with that confession. Likewise, "the doctrine of justification by faith" is nothing more than a mere formula that many evangelicals ascribe to. How many have actually put their trust in Christ?
| 2008/10/22 14:17||Profile|
Quaker City, Ohio
| Re: Justification by Faith: It's a Matter of Life and Death|
This whole doctrine of "justification by faith" has become so laden with theological baggage that we miss the simple message of "the just shall live by faith".
The Jews (and heathen) found themselves confronted by a law they could not live up to, because they were spiritually dead--separated from The Eternal Life (Jehovah).
How to obtain life? How to obtain a reunitedness with The Eternally Existant Jehovah? How to be quickened so they could fulfill and obey?
Keep Sabbaths, new moons, and diets to perfection...will that infuse us with the Life of God? No.
Through faith in Christ we can have His Life (His blood) infused into us so that we can then be enabled to live justly, godly, and holy on planet earth.
Let's read the verse (just shall live by faith) backwards now...
First faith, then Life infused, then righteous conduct flowing out of that Life!
Of course, it is not written this way, but rather the writer starts with the end result (righteousness), moves next to the cause of this ((spiritual life), and then ends up with the springboard of it all (faith)
Glory!...made into a righteous person through the power of Christ's Spirit (His Life), by believing on Him. Amen!!!!
We are thus made into just people by faith.
| 2008/10/23 22:30||Profile|
Amen. A pulse is the product of life, not the other way around. Our actions, likewise, are a product of life, and not the other way around.
| 2008/10/26 0:26||Profile|
Bro. Ron makes a real good point, true faith is built on relationship with its author. Relationship is conditioned by conscience and truth or doctrine. Our pulpits seem to lack thoughs who can speak to the conscience of mankind. I see people who seem to be disciplined in thier very make-up personally but they have no life. They can keep doctrine, or church exercises in the very doing of scripture but they lack real life and display everything but the fruit of "love".
How many have actually put their trust in Christ?
It takes a crisis point in time, I believe, to bring one to this point. Than from there good solid teaching/doctrine from men/women who really love the Lord.But you re right, in the church we too often just give formulas.*sigh*, and I've been guilty of that too I fear in the past. True doctrine taught is really discipleship and that takes time, lots of personal time in real everyday life from the one who is teaching doctrines, relationship. I heard, I think it was Stewart Briscoe say once that people don't care how much you know till they know how much you care, I like that.
| 2008/10/26 8:48||Profile|
Ron's: Christ is the Saviour not the doctrine. I do sometimes wonder how much 'presumption' substitutes for genuine faith in the evangelical movement...
Would this mean that folk take hold of the scriptures and try to presume that they apply to them and their situation- but yet God has not 'quickened' that word towards them? Some people have the attitude that if it is in God's word it is a promise to 'me' that I can stand on right now. But can I stand on a promise that God has not quickened to me?
Robert Wurtz II
| 2008/10/26 17:07||Profile|
But can I stand on a promise that God has not quickened to me?
I believe we can as long as we are walking in the fear of the Lord. I liken that to a ship sitting still or one in movement, which is easier to steer? I believe that there are times and seasons when God seems very silent, and there are time when we just plain miss it with the voice of God or for some reason we dont seem to be able to hear Him or recieve a quickening word from His mouth.
It would be interesting to hear how Ron and others see it.
As to presumption, I see that like Israel who wanted to go up into the promised land after they had recieve orders not, and that right after they had made repentance, hummmm, might be a sermon there. :-(
| 2008/10/26 17:34||Profile|
They can keep doctrine, or church exercises in the very doing of scripture but they lack real life and display everything but the fruit of "love".
Indeed, it is very hard to love One if you are trying to "work" for their love. It is a sad thing to see. I've known so many people, and indeed have been such a person, where one is trying to earn God's righteousness through works. They are such great Christians by all outward appearance. Yet, there seems to be this subtle harshness of spirit about them.
Indeed, I have heard sad stories of ministers on their death beds, wracked in pain from head to toe, who were just entirely bewildered over the fact that they were dying such miserable deaths. They were bewildered because they had served God so faithfully all these years. Then they sadly start attempting to examine all the ins and outs of their life history, seeing if somehow they had failed God so as to bring about this condition. If only the had been better, God might have healed them, or at least allowed them to die more peacefully!!! Oh... our works-based theology is so deeply ingrained!!!
It's a truly amazing thing to be delivered from such a thing through one's relationship with the Lord. Indeed, nothing else other than a genuine relationship will ever deliver one from such a thing. Is it no wonder Luther was such a wretch over his own soul until the Lord flooded his heart with the truth of justification by faith?
Art Katz once pointed out that men are so bent on self-righteousness that they crucified the Lord in order to defend their right to be such. The free offer of grace through faith is just too much for us. It indeed, is an offense. For as one theologian once said, "We are all Pelagian by birth." That is, to some degree we all naturally believe in our inherit goodness and ability for self-help and self-salvation. Only somebody that has had a true revelation of the Lord can ever overcome this malady-- or even desire to do so. Indeed, any true revelation of God, such as Isaiah had in his vision of the thrice holy Lord, will leave one with an utter sense of bankruptcy so as to do away with any notions of works based righteousness. The only thing men with such a revelation can do is bow to the One who is revealed.
This is why it is all the more important to understand our stance in relation to this doctrine is indeed a matter of life and death. For all the works in the world and self-righteousness that one asserts will still leave men spiritually dead. Indeed, those who teach contrary to this doctrine, and make "converts," cause them to be twice the sons of hell as a result, just as the Pharisees did. For it is as Paul said: it's not about him who wills or works, but about the God who has mercy. For all the willing and the working will never bring life.
A decapitated body flops around after the head is severed from it, but, that flopping is not to be confused with life. Such can also be seen presently with the Jews dwelling in the land promised to the fathers. The Jew living in the promised land today is nothing more than Ezekiel's prophecy of dry bones rattling together being demonstrated. Many are very satisfied with the present situation, and wish now to simply adorn Jewry with the temple and priesthood again. Indeed, I am confident such will happen again. But even with that, it will be nothing more than flesh being put on those dry bones. Jewry has been in this condition before. And before Christ was there to tell them that all that stuff was fine and good, but that like Ezekiel's vision, the stinking corpse lacked life!
Indeed, just as a side note, I was reading through the Temple Institute web site the other day. It is amazing to see the entire sense of "self" that still exists 2000 years later with Jews. Self-righteous self-made men who are bent on self-realization, in the name of God no less! They talk about their "potential" and the like. Christ will have no such silly talk. Such is the same empty talk that existed in the days He walked the earth too. Then, the only thing that kept them from such a realization were the Roman occupiers and hellenistic culture. Now today, the only thing that keeps them from such a realization are those darned Muslims! It's amazing how history has a way of rhyming. You would think after nearly 3000 years of correction by the Lord, that they would have learned their lessons. But, sadly, this lesson has yet to be learned by that people, which, sadly, will only make them candidates for the same troubles all over again!
This is why we need to come to an end of self. And the doctrine of justification by faith is designed to do this very thing. For when one realizes they are only saved by faith in the Lord, self must come to an end. Thus, "he who keeps his life will lose it, but he who loses his life will find it."
| 2008/10/26 23:27||Profile|