Dear Church Family,
The Psalmist declares: “O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation” (Psalm 95:1-2). Yet, how many Christians fail to find or keep that joy because of their exorbitant meditation and dwelling on their own sin? Certainly, the Scriptures call for us to examine ourselves, confess and repent of our sins; however, inordinate morbid introspection will only lead to despair. It is far better, and brings greater lasting joy, to meditate upon the fact that the Lord is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). Charles Spurgeon gives a wonderful exhortation on just this point:
It will always give a Christian the greatest calm, quiet, ease, and peace, to think of the perfect righteousness of Christ. How often are the saints of God downcast and sad! I do not think they ought to be. I do not think they would if they could always see their perfection in Christ. There are some who are always talking about corruption, and the depravity of the heart, and the innate evil of the soul. This is quite true, but why not go a little further, and remember that we are “perfect in Christ Jesus.” It is no wonder that those who are dwelling upon their own corruption should wear such downcast looks; but surely if we call to mind that “Christ is made unto us righteousness,” we shall be of good cheer. What though distresses afflict me, though Satan assault me, though there may be many things to be experienced before I get to heaven, those are done for me in the covenant of divine grace; there is nothing wanting in my Lord, Christ hath done it all. On the cross He said, “It is finished!” and if it be finished, then am I complete in Him, and can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, “Not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” You will not find on this side heaven a holier people than those who receive into their hearts the doctrine of Christ’s righteousness. When the believer says, “I live on Christ alone; I rest on Him solely for salvation; and I believe that, however unworthy, I am still saved in Jesus;” then there rises up as a motive of gratitude this thought-- “Shall I not live to Christ? Shall I not love Him and serve Him, seeing that I am saved by His merits?” “The love of Christ constraineth us,” “that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him which died for them.” If saved by imputed righteousness, we shall greatly value imparted righteousness. (Spurgeon, Morning & Evening, “Morning,” January 31)
The Scriptures declare that those whom God has regenerated (caused to be born again) and then effectually called to Himself, He also justifies and glorifies (Romans 8:30). So, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the explanation of effectual calling (chapter 10) is followed by teaching on justification (chapter 11), adoption (chapter 12), and sanctification (chapter 13).
While sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in the life of the believer, justification and adoption are one-time acts of God’s free grace that occur simultaneously when those who have been predestined unto eternal life place their faith in Christ. So, since justification and adoption go together in this way, we will deal with them together, as well.
The Definition of Justification (WCF 11.1)
As we’ve already mentioned, God justifies all those whom He effectually calls. By way of clarification, the first paragraph of chapter 11 in the Westminster Confession of Faith offers three “not…but” statements:
(1) God justifies not by infusing righteousness, but by reckoning, or counting, people as righteous (Romans 4:5-8).
(2) God justifies not based on imparted righteousness or personal works, but based on Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
(3) God justifies not by imputing faith or obedience, but by imputing the obedience of Christ (Jeremiah 23:6; Ephesians 2:8-9).
This definition of justification is more succinctly stated in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC 33).
Too often, Christians can fall into the trap of thinking that their acceptance by God is based upon their own merit and good works (or lack thereof); however, the Bible’s teaching on justification reminds us that those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ are righteous in God’s sight based solely on an alien righteousness that is not their own. The prophet Isaiah gives us a beautiful picture of the joy that comes from knowing that one is clothed in the righteousness of Christ: “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
The Instrument of Justification: Faith (WCF 11.2)
Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, there are some today who maintain that faith in Jesus Christ is not enough. Some teach that one must add their own good works to faith, others teach that the sacraments are a necessary addition to faith. But, man can do nothing to add to the work of Christ. His work is enough; it is perfect. Therefore, there is no other means by which we may be justified in the eyes of God, other than by receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness (Romans 3:28; 5:1; Galatians 2:16; 3:11, 24). We are justified by faith alone, in Christ alone.
At the same time, the gift of faith is always accompanied by all other saving graces that are necessary for the living out of the Christian life. It is not as though God justifies His children by giving them a right standing in His sight, and then leaves them to fend for themselves. No good parent does that. In addition to giving them new life, God gives to His children everything that is necessary for the pursuit of godliness (2 Peter 1:3), faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).
Exact Justice and Rich Grace (WCF 11.3)
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has made full satisfaction of God the Father’s justice (Romans 5:8-10). Christ’s obedience and satisfaction is accepted in our place (Isaiah 53:4-6). We have been saved by grace through faith in Christ; Christ’s work is applied to us by the free gift of God, such that no person may boast in their own works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Because God is holy and just, He does not simply pass over sins or say that they don’t matter. Payment must be made for the sins of His people if they are to be declared righteous and receive eternal life. To do otherwise would not be just or fair. Thus, in Christ’s paying for the sins of God’s people – discharging their debt – the exact justice of God is maintained (Romans 3:24-26). And, through the free gift of justification, according to God’s mercy, the rich grace of God is displayed, as well (Ephesians 2:4-7).
The Trinitarian Nature of Justification (WCF 11.4)
In eternity past, God the Father decreed to justify all the elect (1 Peter 1:19-20).
In the fullness of time, God the Son died for the sins of His people and rose again for their justification (Galatians 4:4; Romans 4:25).
In due time, God the Holy Spirit applies Christ to the elect (Titus 3:4-7).
Justification and Discipline (WCF 11.5)
It is not as if God forgave the sins of those whom He justified, but then requires something from them to be forgiven for their additional sins. No, God continues to forgive the sins of those who are justified because Jesus Christ continues to stand as our Advocate before the Father, pleading His righteousness on our behalf (1 John 2:1-2).
Our right standing before God is secure because of Christ and His work; yet, as a loving Father, God disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:7-11; 1 Corinthians 11:30). When we sin, He chastises us and shows us His displeasure. Yet, He also promises that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
The Justification of Old Testament Believers (WCF 11.6)
Some believe that there are various dispensations in redemptive history in which God has different standards for salvation; however, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) – in God there is no variation or shifting shadow (James 1:17). Thus, there has always been one way of salvation: justification by faith alone. Abraham believed in the LORD; and God reckoned it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Therefore, Abraham is the example and paradigm by which all of God’s people are justified (Romans 4:22-24).
Whereas the chapter in the confession on justification (chapter 11) has six paragraphs, the chapter on adoption (chapter 12) contains only one. Just because this chapter is so short, it does not mean that the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith didn’t think that the doctrine of adoption was important. Rather, it’s brevity probably has something to do with the fact adoption was not a hotly contested issue.
As with justification, adoption is according to the kind intention of God by His predestination in eternity past (Ephesians 1:5). And, adoption is accomplished for us by the perfect work of Christ on our behalf (Galatians 4:4). The gracious privileges of adoption for those whom God justifies are enumerated in the confession as follows:
All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him as by a Father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation. (WCF 12.1)
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch