Justification by Christ 19

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:

4. It is evident that the subject of justification is looked upon as destitute of any righteousness in himself, by that expression, it is counted, or imputed to him for righteousness. — The phrase, as the apostle uses it here and in the context, manifestly imports that God of his sovereign grace is pleased in his dealings with the sinner, so to regard one that has no righteousness, that the consequence shall be the same as if he had. This however may be from the respect it bears to something that is indeed righteous. It is plain that this is the force of the expression in the preceding verses. In the last verse but one, it is manifest, the apostle lays the stress of his argument for the free grace of God — from that text of the Old Testament about Abraham — on the word counted or imputed. This is the thing that he supposed God to show his grace in, viz. in his counting something for righteousness, in his consequential dealings with Abraham, that was no righteousness in itself.          Jonathan Edwards, Justification by Faith Alone

Those who are justified have no righteousness in and of themselves. They are utterly “destitute” of righteousness themselves and whatever righteousness they have it is imputed to them. To those poor souls who have learned that they are utterly destitute of righteousness, this is good news. They are the ones that God justifies by Christ alone and grace alone. These are the souls that have learned that they are spiritually poor or impoverished of spirit. If Christ does not save them for His own glory and by grace alone, they will never be saved. If God does not justify them in the sense of declaring them just on the basis of Christ alone, they will perish forever. If God does not impute the righteousness of Christ to them and declare them righteous based on that, then they will have no righteousness for all eternity. The poor soul that has been shown just how destitute it is rejoices when Christ becomes his or hers and has the imputed righteousness of Christ to stand in.

It is clear from the context of the passages dealt with and the rest of the Bible that it is sovereign grace that God shows sinners. The whole world has sinned (original sin, all born dead in sin) and the whole world continues to fall short of His glory. There is no one more attractive to God than another, but all are by nature children of wrath. All humanity come into this world as children of the devil and with the poison of asps in their mouths. All human beings come into this world and are opposed to God and at enmity with Him. Yet God saves some to the praise of the glory of His grace. Since it is to the praise of the glory of His grace, the Gospel of Christ alone is all about what Christ has done in the place of sinners. It is not about sinners being able to obtain merit by works or some form of godliness, but instead justification is all about His grace and Christ.

The grace that is spoken of is free-grace which is a grace that is not moved by anything in the human or done by the human. This is a grace that is moved from within God and is for His own glory. This is a grace that comes to sinners as destitute and helpless in themselves and so must have another do all that is needed to save them or they will not be saved. These have no access and no ability to obtain righteousness, so it is only by sovereign and free-grace that righteousness is imputed to them or counted as theirs. As Edwards notes, when God counted something to Abraham as righteousness, this shows that Abraham was not righteous in himself and had no righteousness to count as his.

But again, we must look at our own hearts in light of this. Do we trust (have faith) in anything we have done? Do we trust in the fact that we have believed? Do we trust in the fact that we have done what we think is a good work or trust in good works? Until we have been broken from trusting in anything we have done we will not trust in Christ alone. Until we are broken from looking to any righteousness in ourselves or have lost hope in our ability to do any righteous thing, we will not look to the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. But we must also realize that this being broken is also the gracious work of Christ by His Spirit in our souls. We must not look to our own ability to break our own hearts either. We must not look to our own lack or righteousness or lack of ability as something we have worked up and therefore we can be proud of in a perverted way. It is all a work of grace from beginning to end. It is all to the praise of the glory of His grace!

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