With the Reformation fresh in our minds I thought it would be good for us to consider a crucial element of the Reformation, namely the doctrine of justification. We will use Buchanan’s The Doctrine of Justification as our guide if you would like to follow/read along.
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WSC 33). Speaking of this, Buchanan noted that this is “surprising, startling, and affecting us strangely, as if it were almost too good to be true (p. 2).
In the Word, sacraments, and prayer, we are brought back to the source of our life…
So important was this that Martin Luther described it as articulus stantis vel cadentis — the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling (p. vii). As J.I. Packer notes, “By this he meant that…the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied…the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death” (vii).
He goes on. “The fullest statement of the gospel that the Bible contains is found in the epistle to the Romans, and Romans minus justification by faith would be like Hamlet without the Prince” (vii).
And again, “For the doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas: it bears the world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace” (viii).
In the rest of our space let’s ponder the quote from Packer a bit more and notice that the church falls from grace and its life is drained not only when justification by faith is denied, but also when it is overlaid and neglected. In most corners of the church, justification by faith is almost never flatly denied. Usually, however, it is overlaid with untold number of programs and tangential things. And very often it is simply neglected for something more relevant or faddish. It is not uncommon for us to hear from people who come to New Life that they had never heard of the doctrine of justification by faith before coming here. But we are not immune to the temptation to overlay this doctrine or neglect it for “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13).
The temptation will always be for us to do our part” and for us to begin “by the Spirit“and to be “perfected by the flesh” (Gal. 3:3). The only way this temptation will ever be overcome is by constant use of the ordinary means God has given to us – word, sacraments, and prayer. In these we are brought back to the source of our life, the living lord Jesus, and in him we find something “surprising, startling, and affecting us strangely, as if it were almost too good to be true.”