Justification by Christ 17

Justification by faith alone is the article upon which the Church stands or falls. Martin Luther

“4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” — Romans 4:4-5

Subject: We are justified only by faith in Christ, and not by any manner of goodness of our own. The following things may be noted in this verse:
2. It appears, that by him that worketh not, in this verse, is not meant one who merely does not conform to the ceremonial law, because he that worketh not, and the ungodly, are evidently synonymous expressions, or what signify the same, as appears by the manner of their connection. If not, to what purpose is the latter expression, the ungodly, brought in? The context gives no other occasion for it, but to show that by the grace of the gospel, God in justification has no regard to any godliness of ours. The foregoing verse is, “Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” In that verse, it is evident that gospel grace consists in the reward being given without works, and in this verse, which immediately follows it, and in sense is connected with it, gospel grace consists in a man’s being justified as ungodly. By which it is most plain, that by him that worketh not, and him that is ungodly, are meant the same thing, and that therefore not only works of the ceremonial law are excluded in this business of justification, but works of morality and godliness.       Jonathan Edwards, Justification by Faith Alone

The essence of what the sinner does that is justified is vital to the biblical doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone. The person who is justified, that is, declared just by God on the basis of Christ alone is a person that does not work for salvation. This is so important, even utterly vital. The person that is declared just by God has given up on his works for justification and so does not work at all for justification. This does not mean that the justified person will not work out of love for God, but it teaches us that the justified person stops working for justification. While this text does not say what has gone on and is going on in the heart of the person, we can note that if a person has stopped working for justification, the heart of the person has been broken from looking to his own merits and his own abilities.
When God declares the sinner just in His sight, the sinner has stopped working for justification and the sinner is ungodly in and of himself. The sinner has arrived at the inward conviction that if he is working for salvation and that work did in fact contribute to salvation, then he would be earning something of his salvation. But Scripture is quite clear that works do not contribute to salvation. When the Holy Spirit is working in the conscience and in the heart of a sinner, that sinner begins to see that s/he is ungodly and cannot possibly contribute to justification in the slightest way. The sinner that sees himself as ungodly will know (if taught in the inward man) that there is no merit in his works and in fact the best of his works is full of sin. This person accepts the word of God and knows that s/he is ungodly and it must be Christ alone by grace alone if s/he is going to be justified.
Edwards makes a very important point in the paragraph (of his) above. In both verses 4 and 5 it is Gospel grace that is the issue. We cannot work in such a way to obtain merit because it is grace that justifies and not our works. If we had even a bit of godliness, then it is not Gospel grace that justifies apart from anything good found in us. The glory of God’s grace is that God justifies sinners because of Christ and nothing that the sinner has in terms of merit or godliness. In this way we see that Christ and grace shines in the justification of sinners.
Another issue, as pointed out by Edwards, is that it is not just the civil and ceremonial law that men are excluded from keeping as a way of merit, it is also the moral law. Men are ungodly which means that they do not keep any moral law at all in a way that is acceptable to God. It is not that God has divided His Old Testament laws up and now there are some we don’t keep and a few we do, but all law-keeping (for justification) is excluded in terms of His justifying ungodly sinners. All law-keeping is excluded in terms of His justifying sinners who no longer work for justification. The hearts of sinners that are justified by grace alone are broken from trying to earn any part of justification and their hearts are broken from any idea of trying to merit a part of it by their godliness. The justified sinner looks to nothing but Christ alone and His grace alone.

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