Justification by Grace through Faith
“For by grace are ye saved through faith.” —Ephesians 2:8
The psalmist exhorts us: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits, who forgiveth all thine iniquities.” (103:2). We are to bless, praise, honor, and thank God for His countless gifts, blessings, and benefits; we are to remember and not forget all that He has done for us, particularly the forgiveness of our sins. This is why the Apostle Peter declared: “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth” (II Peter 1:12). Likewise, we will not be negligent in reminding our readers of that great, priceless gem which was restored through the Reformation, namely, the doctrine of God’s justification of all sinners by His grace in Christ Jesus, received and enjoyed through faith in Christ. Without shame, for the sake of our only Savior, we proclaim and defend this “material principle” of the Reformation, the central teaching of the Christian religion, on which our eternal salvation from sin and hell is built. “For by grace are ye saved through faith,” writes Paul to the Ephesians, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” (2:8-9).
Why was this divine work of justification so absolutely necessary for all? Take note of how God, in His Word, answers this important question: “There is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). “Ye shall be holy [without sin], for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). “Whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). “Sin is the transgression of the Law” (I John 3:4). In Psalm 5 we hear this true testimony concerning the one and only God: “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with Thee. The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight; Thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (v’s. 4-5). In Romans 1, the apostle announced that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (v. 18). And the Prophet Isaiah included himself when he wrote down these words: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (64:6). So, what must we conclude? “By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). No one, absolutely no one, can be justified by what he does, by his compliance with the Law of God. Away with “indulgences,” mass cards, merit badges, “good” works used as “brownie points” with God, climbing the “ladder” to the “33rd degree” —all intended to “earn” heaven, to set the “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) of human righteousness before a holy and just God, actually expecting Him to accept them!
How did God justify the entire human race, the whole world? Concerning “all [who] have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” the apostle says of them: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Instead of giving all sinners what they justly deserved (Romans 6:23; Galatians 3:10; etc.), God gave them what they did not deserve: Righteousness (Romans 3:21; Jeremiah 23:6; II Corinthians 5:21), forgiveness for their sins (II Corinthians 5:19), and reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:19), all because of and on account of Christ’s perfect satisfaction of divine justice in the place of sinners. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the Word of Reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19). This sola gratia (solely by God’s grace in Christ Jesus) was (and still is) that glorious, wonderful teaching restored through the Reformation for all subsequent generations to hear, know about, believe, and praise. No one was left out when God, for Jesus’ sake, justified all (Romans 5:18; 3:24). This precious, God-given teaching is what we in the Concordia Lutheran Conference joyfully identify with our orthodox Lutheran fathers as objective, general, universal justification
How abhorrent (Romans 12:9) when Lutheran theologians, who claim to be orthodox and faithful, detest and attack not only the doctrine of objective justification, but also those who faithfully teach it (Jeremiah 23:28; Luke 10:16), support, and defend it. Consider the testimony of a so-called “independent” in outward Lutheranism today, Pastor Gregory Jackson, the pastor of A Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church, Glendale, Arizona, as he “speaks” on his congregation’s web-site in regard to Isaiah 60: “The Objective Justification fanatics are all like that. They are dead to the Law. They hide behind Gospel forgiveness to explain away all their shameless acts. They are already forgiven, so they can do whatever they want. But watch out if you annoy one of these characters. They say everyone is forgiven without faith but they excommunicate without hesitation. They cannot explain the contradiction. If everyone is forgiven, how can they refuse forgiveness and send to Hell someone who disagrees with their cult?” (Cited from page 2 of his web document.) Since the Word of God is all true (John 17:17; II Timothy 3:16), including what it teaches on objective justification (Romans 3:24; 5:18; II Corinthians 5:19; etc.), an attack on the Scriptural teaching of objective justification, plus an attack on those who teach it, is an attack on God Himself (Luke 10:16). Despite being labeled as “fanatics” and of being falsely accused by Pastor Jackson of abusing the forgiveness of sins, we of the Concordia Lutheran Conference cannot and will not stop proclaiming and rejoicing in God’s justification of all sinners by His grace in Christ Jesus, His general amnesty or forensic pardon of “the world,” received through faith.
Yes, faith is the actual receiving means of this objective justification announced in “the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). Therefore, it is justifying faith, that is, confidence in the mercy of God which remits sins for Christ’s sake, totally apart from the works of the Law, confidence whereby the sinner lays hold on and clings to the assurance of God’s forgiveness of all mankind and thus personally receives full absolution from all guilt and punishment by faith. This is subjective, individual justification. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law” (Romans 3:28). What clear, plain, and yet profoundly comforting words we gratefully and joyfully repeat from Ephesians 2: “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (v’s. 8-9). This sola fide (solely through faith), without any human works, was also restored during the Reformation. What a relief this restoration was for consciences then and is for consciences yet today!
The Council of Trent, which was the Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, met “off-and-on” between 1545 and 1563. Its purpose was to “overthrow” the restoration of pure, Biblical teaching through the Reformation. This attempt at “overthrow” was evident in Canon 12 (from this Council) which declared: “If anyone saith that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified, let him be anathema [cursed, damned].” God, in His rich mercy, did not allow this vicious attack on His Word of truth to be successful. Sola fide still stands today! Hallelujah!! “He that believeth on Him [the Son of God] is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Now, for the believers in Jesus, the saints (I Corinthians 1:2; I Peter 2:9), having the overflowing benefits (Psalm 23:5-6; 103:2) of sola gratia and sola fide, should they boldly go forward and live in sin because they have the forgiveness of sins (as Gregory Jackson falsely accuses us of teaching)? The apostle put it this way: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1)? And how did he answer that question? “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein” (Romans 6:2)? As the Reformation so wonderfully brought home to us, “the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge that if One died for all, then were all dead, and that He died for all, that they which live [the believers in Christ] should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again” (II Corinthians 5:14-15). Indeed, to do less, and to desire to do anything less, would show callous disregard for and despisal of the forgiveness of sins which Christ merited for all and which God granted to all mankind for Jesus’ sake. “From this preserve us, heavenly Father!” (Luther).
R. J. L.