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Justification by Faith Alone

(The Relation of Faith to Justification)

Dr. Joel R. Beeke

Justification by faith alone was Martin Luther’s great spiritual and theological breakthrough. It did not come easily. He had tried everything from sleeping on hard floors and fasting to climbing a staircase in Rome while kneeling in prayer. Monasteries, disciplines, confessions, masses, absolutions, good works-all proved fruitless. Peace with God eluded him. The thought of the righteousness of God pursued him. He hated the very word “righteousness,” which he believed provided a divine mandate to condemn him.

Light finally dawned for Luther as he meditated on Romans 1:17, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” He saw for the first time that the righteousness Paul had here in mind was not a punitive justice which condemns sinners but a perfect righteousness which God freely grants to sinners on the basis of Christ’s merits, and which sinners receive by faith. Luther saw that the doctrine of justification by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (per solam fidem) because of Christ alone (solus Christus) was the heart of the gospel and became for him “an open door into paradise…. a gate to heaven.”

The phrase “justification by faith alone” was the key which unlocked the Bible for Luther.1 Each of these four words he came to understand in relation to the others by the light of Scripture and the Spirit. Elsewhere this volume deals with three words of Luther’s four-word rediscovery: justification, faith, alone. My task of expounding “by” may appear at first glance to be elementary, but around this deceptively simple preposition the heart of the Romanist-Protestant debate has raged. Let’s ask and answer several pertinent questions with regard to this critical preposition which will serve to highlight the relationship of faith to justification. We will consider the preposition “by” from four perspectives: first, scripturally, by considering the basic teaching of justification by faith, together with exegetical and etymological implications of the preposition; second, theologically, by grappling with the issue of faith as a possible “condition” of justification; third, experientially, by addressing how a sinner appropriates Christ by faith; fourth, polemically, by defending the Protestant View of justification, “by” faith against the views of Roman Catholicism, Arminianism, and Antinomianism.

 

 

 

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  1. May 1, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

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