Justification is Only by a Perfect Righteousness

Francis Turretin is our guide through the process of looking at why faith itself cannot be accepted as righteousness. In past posts we looked at his first two reasons: “(a) because what is only the instrument for receiving righteousness cannot be our righteousness itself formally…(b) Because faith is distinguished from the righteousness itself which is imputed to us, both because it is said to be “of faith” and “by faith.” In this post we will look at (c) given below.

“Because we are not justified except by a perfect righteousness. For we have to deal with the strict justice of God, which cannot be deceived. Now no faith here is perfect. Nor can it be said that it is not indeed a perfect righteousness of itself, but is admitted as such by God and considered such by a gratuitous lowering of the law’s demands. For in the court of divine justice (which demands an adequate and absolutely perfect payment), there cannot be room for a gracious acceptation which is an imaginary payment. Again, since our justification is a forensic and judicial act (where God shows himself just, Rom 3:25), it does not admit of a gracious acceptance (which never proceeds from the authority and sentence of the Judge, but from the voluntary and private stipulation of the parties).”

If Turretin had said nothing else but this statement his case in this point against Socinianism, Romanism, and Arminianism would have been sealed and over. Why is it that faith itself cannot be accepted as righteousness in and of itself? It is “because we are not justified except by a perfect righteousness.” This is a massive bomb launched into the theology of the groups listed above. I fear, however, that it is also a bomb that needs to explode in the theology of many that call themselves Reformed in our day. The reason that we must have a perfect righteousness is because God is perfect in all He is and all He does. As a just God, He demands perfect justice. As a perfect God who is omnipresent, all-wise, and omniscient, He cannot possibly be deceived. God will not declare anyone just on the basis of anything but a perfect righteousness. We are now right back to the basic issues in theology and that is the character of the living God. We may want to water things down to allow some small wiggle room for human activity in salvation, but Turretin takes us right back to the glory of the justice of God. We tend to forget that the Gospel is the Gospel of the glory of God. We want to think that God is all about us, so we conveniently ignore the fact that the Gospel is so that He may be just and the justifier. For God to declare a sinner just, that sinner must be perfectly just in His eyes. That declaration will take place in one of three ways: 1. It will be by the perfect righteousness of Christ granted by grace. 2. It will be the righteousness of the sinner him or herself. 3. It will be by mostly Christ and a little of the human being.

For the Socinian or Arminian position to be true, faith itself must be counted as a righteous act (however small) that is acceptable to God. Perhaps most Arminians in our day would deny position 3, but at some point they would have to be driven there. If faith is exercised by the human being apart from grace alone in order to attach itself to Christ, then that is something that must be a perfect act or we would not be justified by a perfect righteousness. As Turretin points out, that demands that God be something less than perfectly just. All that have any real view of Scripture know that the sinner will never be righteous in and of himself (view 2). However, it is very hard for people to see that their faith must come from them as fallen individuals and must be perfect in and of itself if they are going to be saved by a perfect righteousness. It is hard to get people to see that they must be saved by the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ alone apart from any act of their faith if their faith has to have merit. But once it is admitted that a person must be saved by the righteousness of Christ alone, the only place to go is that faith is an instrument that receives grace. Faith does nothing in and of itself but receive grace. It is this position alone that allows for God to be perfectly just in declaring sinners perfectly righteous in His sight because Christ alone has earned a perfect righteousness. If the sinner trusts in his own faith as the part he needs to do, then the sinner needs a perfect faith that will merit righteousness in the eyes of an all-knowing and perfectly just God. It is nothing but supreme arrogance to state that a sinner can do one thing perfectly righteous when Scripture says that “ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE” (Rom 3:12). We are all helpless sinners in the hands of God who alone can give us a perfect righteousness that saves completely because it alone satisfies perfect justice. Instead of arguing that we can work up one little perfect act ourselves, we need to be on our knees crying out to this great God for mercy in the name of Christ. It is only on the basis of His name that a perfectly just God can show mercy.

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