Justification versus Self-justification

Posted: March 30, 2012 by doulos tou Theou in Christianity, Discipleship, The Christian Life

a paper presented at the Gospel Coalition April 13th 2011 by Ray Ortlund

My purpose is to clarify the social dynamics of grace-justification as opposed to the social dynamics of self-justification, so that we can enlarge our understanding of what it means to be faithful to the gospel.

This matters because, as Luther taught us, justification by faith alone is not just one doctrine among others; it is “the article by which the church stands or falls.” Luther also taught us that justification by faith alone is hard to accept and hard to hold onto. In his commentary on Galatians, he wrote, “This doctrine cannot be beaten into our ears too much. Yes, though we learn it and understand it well, yet there is no one who takes hold of it perfectly or believes it with all his heart, so frail a thing is our flesh and disobedient to the Spirit.”

What I am saying today, on the basis of Galatians, is that the gospel, and justification in particular, calls for more than doctrinal subscription; it also calls for cultural incarnation. I am not saying it is easy to follow through at both levels. It is impossible without Christ himself, as I will assert in my conclusion. But I am saying we would be unfaithful to settle for doctrinal correctness without also establishing a culture of grace in our churches and denominations and movements. In other words, if justification by faith alone is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls, what does it look like to stand rather than fall? Is it possible to fall, while we think we are standing? The book of Galatians shows it is possible.

A believer or a church can trumpet the doctrine of grace-justification while, at the same time, be crippled with the dysfunctions of self-justification. In Galatians, Paul is pressing the gospel forward at both levels – the doctrine and the culture. He could not be satisfied if the Galatians’ only response to his letter would be to reassert justification by faith alone as a doctrine; it is clear from this letter that he also expects them to establish a culture consistent with that doctrine. That, in Paul’s view, is faithfulness to Christ.

I begin today with three assumptions.

One, the classical Protestant doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from all our works, is the truth.

Two, self-justification is the deepest impulse in the fallen human heart.

Three, gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.

read the whole paper here

  1. susanshank says:

    That was so good. I decided to print out the whole paper of Ray Ortlund’s. It is really hard to live in a Gospel culture..self creeps up on us – all too easily. For today, my prayer is to ask God to “notify” me by His holy checks when I succumb to self. It is such an easy place for me to be comfortable in,I need Someone/someone to shake me back into Christ-justification. Thank you for this blog. It was just where I needed to be for this day!

  2. nannykim says:

    Hmm, I like Trent’s definition of justification better. I think it states it in its fullness. In his article he mentions Catholics not understanding it—I believe they understand it in more biblical way”

    Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instru-[Page 35]mental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless; and, In Christ Jesus neither circumcision, availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by charity.

  3. doulos tou Theou says:

    IMHO Trent lowers the effect of Justification by trying to argue the point with the reformers position :

    CANON 9: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.”

    scriptures that refute:

    “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” (Rom. 3:20).

    “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 3:24).

    “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” (Rom. 3:28).

    “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” (Rom. 4:3).

    “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).

    “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God,” (Eph. 2:8).

    “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” (Titus 3:5).

    Canon 24: “If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.”

    scripture that refute:

    “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3).

    “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. 2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law,” (Gal. 5:1-3).

  4. kim/nannykim says:

    These are troublesome. But we tend to look at them with a Protestants’ eye and not in relation to all the other canons and statements on justification. The RC say “The sinner can and must prepare himself by the help of actual grace for the reception of the grace by which he is justified” So always the need for grace.. Zech 1:3 “Say to them: Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return to me…and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. and Lamentation 5:21 “Convert us, O Lord,to thee, and we shall be converted. The first verse speaks of man’s movement to God and the second the” necessity of the prevenient grace of God.” Other verses with these concepts would be

    James 4:6 But he bestows a greater grace; therefore it says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 7 So submit yourself to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. 9 Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exult you.”

    There are tons of verses on the need for repentance –the need to Repent AND believe. Jesus, Himself, told the rich man to sell all he had and follow Christ. There was the aspect that one had to repent of their sin and then believe in such a way that one followed Christ. All of this is through grace—it is not just faith that comes through grace.

    Canon 24 again RC comes to justification from a different angle than a Protestant. RC does not divide Sanctification from Justification in the way that a Protestant tends to divide God’s work in the soul into many parts. The RC tends to look at the whole work of God in the soul. To get from A to B one needs the whole work—justification and sanctification–Heb 12.14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” 1 peter 1.15 but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, 16 for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy. 17 Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one’s works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed…..19 with the precious blood of Christ…..21 who through him believe in God…22 Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another…..

    Rev 2: 4 Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. 5 Realize how far you have fallen. Repent and do the works you did at first. Otherwise , I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. …7b To the victor I will give the right to eat from the tree of life that is in the garden of God.”

    Rev 2.10b Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life…11b the victor shall not be harmed by the second death.”

    Well , Rev is full of these–Prot. tend to divide up Justification, Sanctification, Perseverance and ultimately The Bible, and Prot. and RC say they are necessary.

    It is Holy week and I know you are too busy to respond and I may be too! Have a blessed week and I look forward to reading more of your posts etc.

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