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More of What ‘Justification by Faith Apart from Works’ *Doesn’t* Mean

30 October, 2008

More good stuff from Scottish theologian John Brown’s Life of Justification Open’d (again, in my own paraphrase). In the last post we looked at eight ways this ‘article of a standing or falling church’ can be misunderstood or misrepresented. So what else DOESN’T justification by faith without works mean?

9. We are justified by the inherent righteousness that God works within us.

If this were the case, how could we confess with Isaiah that all our own righteousness is like filthy rags (Is 64:6)? We must also admit with the psalmist, that in God’s sight no one living should be justified if God should enter into judgment with them (Ps 143:3). Why should Job have abhored himself (Job 42:6) if he had a righteousness of his own within him on account of which he was justified? And didn’t Paul have as much a right as anyone to claim justification on the grounds of personal righteousness and holiness? Yet we don’t hear anything of the sort from him — on the contrary, he considered all things nothing and dung that he might gain Christ, and be found only in Christ’s righteousness apart from his own.

10. We aren’t justified by our own righteousness, but our righteousness is still part of the ground of justification, and without it we cannot be justified.

Even this gives a good foothold for pride and glorying in ourselves before others, because it makes our works and our faithfulness part of the ground and condition of being righteous before God. This is to put ourselves in the place of Adam, whose obedience and faithfulness would’ve been the ground and condition of justification. Again, look at Paul and Abraham: did Paul ever distinguish between ‘not by works’ and ‘by inherent righteousness’? Can we say that Abraham being justified by faith apart from works really meant that it was upon the condition of personal righteousness? Did Paul make an exception for the condition of personal righteousness when he said that he desired to be found only in Christ’s righteousness and not his own? David couldn’t have said to God in Psalm 143:3, ‘do not enter into judgment with your servant, because in your sight no man living shall be justified’, if it was actually the case that God would justify us if he judged us, seeing that we could fulfil the condition of personal righteousness. Psalm 130:3 makes the same point: ‘If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?’ The point is that no one can stand before God in and of himself, especially by trying to be justified upon the condition of personal righteousness and holiness.

11. Our personal righteousness in justification is only an inferior righteousness, which gives us the right to receive Christ’s righteousness, which is full and perfect righteousness.

If anyone possesses anything that they consider to be righteousness in addition to our subservient to Christ’s, that contributes to their righteousness before God, then their salvation is not of free grace. Even if we make our personal righteousness only a small part of the reason for our justification, what must happen is that it becomes the most important part of actually being justified:  it is what I have to do that ‘activates’ everything that Christ has done, and gives me title to justification, and fulfills all that is required to be justified before God. This is not grace, but debt, and ironically, while we call Christ’s righteousness ‘greater’, it is nevertheless made the servant of our own.

The Bible knows nothing of ‘two-part’ righteousness or ‘two-part’ justification. Righteousness and justification that may stand before God are all or nothing, and the Bible everywhere speaks of the whole of it coming from God in the righteousness of Christ, so that no one may glory except in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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    30 November, 2008 7:31 pm



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