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We're glad that you joined us today for Renewing Your Mind as R.C. Sproul continues his series, What is Reformed Theology? Today we're going to look at what the historians call the material cause of the Reformation, the central controversy over which the whole debate raged, which was the doctrine of sola fide. And the term sola fide contains this sola again, which means alone, and fide is the word for faith coming from fidelis.
We remember the Marine Corps motto semper fi or semper fidelis or the hymn adeste fidelis, or come all ye faithful. Sola fide means faith alone, and this was the central assertion of Martin Luther that provoked the serious controversy of the sixteenth century. And he was speaking to the question, how is a person justified in the sight of God? I think that the doctrine of justification by faith alone of all of the doctrines of systematic theology is relatively easy to grasp with the mind. It's not that it's complicated or so arcane or obtuse that only specialized experts in the field of theology can grasp. But to get the doctrine from our heads into our blood streams is another matter all together, because it is one thing to understand a doctrine. It is another thing to have it be the controlling aspect of the faith by which we live before God. And another thing I want to say before we proceed to an exposition is that we are not saved by a doctrine. It's not faith in the doctrine of justification by faith alone that is what redeems a person. It is the content to which the doctrine points that is so central and crucial to our salvation.
Well, again, we ask why. The fundamental question that the doctrine of justification is trying to answer and succeeds in that attempt is the question, how can an unjust person ever survive the final judgment of a just and holy God? And as soon as we ask that question, we see instantly why it is a matter of great importance, not just a question of dotting I's and crossing T's in passing an exam in systematic theology, but it is the question of how are we to stand before God. We remember David's anguish and pathos and poignancy in his question, oh Lord, if thou should mark iniquities, who would stand?
And it was a rhetorical question because David understood the answer to that question. He was experiencing something that we all should experience the moment our conscience alarms us to the presence of sin in our lives. He said, oh God, if you keep a record, if you keep track, and if you bring this into the judgment, who can stand? And the answer is obviously, what?
No one can stand. I just had a conversation yesterday with a friend of mine who is Jewish, and he was asking me questions about Christianity and wanted to know what's the basic difference between the Christian faith and his own religious background. And I said to him, what do you do with your guilt? And he began to fumble around, and he said, well, I guess I just have to keep trying harder to obey the laws, to keep kosher, and to repent when I do wrong, and so on.
And then I went beyond that, and I said, okay, how is God going to forgive you if no atonement has been made for you other than the sacrifices of bulls and goats? And that led us into a lengthy discussion of what the gospel proclaims at its heart. Because the good news is that God, according to the Apostle Paul, is both just and justifier of sinful people. Now let's look at those concepts as they are put together, that God is both just and justifier. Now both of these concepts have to be clear in our mind if we're going to understand the gospel of the New Testament. The gospel does not say that God simply unilaterally declares forgiveness to everybody in the world. Certainly the doctrine of justification includes the doctrine of divine mercy and of the remission of sins.
That's very important to us, and it sets forth before our eyes a God who is a forgiving God. But I remember when I was a student in the Netherlands that I had great difficulty trying to learn a foreign language in which to do my doctoral studies. And one of the biggest problems I had with the language is the same kind of problem we all have when we learn other languages, and it's the problem of learning the peculiar idioms of a nation or of a particular language. Somebody was talking to me the other day, and he said, well, I don't make any bones about that.
And one of the people who was standing nearby was a guest in this country. He had learned English, and he was just completely befuddled by that expression, make no bones about it. He said, what in the world does that mean? And we had to explain the nuances of that strange idiom. Well, one of the idioms that threw me when I was in Holland was an idiom that was used by one of my professors when he was talking about how God responds to the sin of human beings. And he said, God does not look at sin through His fingers. And that stopped me in my tracks. I said, I have no idea what he's talking about.
God doesn't look at our sin through His fingers. And it wasn't until much later when I was trying to practice learning vocabulary by reading Perry Mason novels in Dutch that I read a little episode in Perry Mason's case where a policeman was talking to a man who was illegally parked, but there was an urgent reason for it. And the policeman was talking to the man about another matter and wanted the man to accompany him somewhere. And the man said, well, I can't keep my car here. You're going to give me a ticket for parking this way. And the policeman said, oh, don't worry about it. I'll look at it through my fingers.
Ah, I said, we use the expression to wink at it. And the point is that when God in His mercy offers forgiveness to those of us who are guilty before Him, the whole process of divine forgiveness does not mean that God simply winks at our sin and therefore and thereby compromises His own righteous character or His justice. His way of justifying guilty people is worked out from all eternity in such a manner that God Himself remains just.
And again that brings us back to the original question. If God is just and I am not just and I have to face His just judgment, how can I possibly stand? What I am in need of most desperately for all eternity is to be justified. Now what the Bible says is that God is both just and the justifier, so that however He works out His justification, He does it without compromising His own justice. And the second point here that is so crucial is that it is God who does the justifying.
Now that's not difficult to understand, but the implications are clear, aren't they? If it is God who is the one who justifies, what does that say about my ability to justify myself? I can't do anything to justify myself, nor can anyone else justify me in this world, nor can the church justify me. It is God and God alone who can pronounce the final verdict of my justification or my lack of it. So in the first instance, the reformers of the sixteenth century insisted that justification is forensic, and so they were teaching what is called forensic justification.
Now this term is a term that is not commonly used in the church. The most frequent place where we hear references to forensics is in criminal trials on Perry Mason or the O.J. Simpson trial or something, where we hear about forensic pathology or forensic evidence, or we have state forensics that involve competition in debate and public speaking and so on, because the term forensic here has to do with some kind of announcement or pronouncement in the arena of law. So when we talk about justifications being forensic, we mean by that that in the final analysis God justifies us when He declares, pronounces that in His sight we are considered, deemed, or regarded as just. So forensic justification involves God's declaration of a person's being just in His sight. And as I say, it is a legal declaration by which God declares a person just.
Now I used a string of words a moment ago that I want to elaborate on. I said He judges us, declares us, or deems us, or reckons us, or counts us as just. Now to get a hold of that, we have to do a little foray now into some simple Latin that we've explained in other courses, but we'll take the time to do it again. It is Luther's summation of the sum and substance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone in his famous slogan, Simul justus et peccator. Simul is the word from which we get the English simultaneous, justus is the word for just, et is the word for and, peccator we get the word impeccable or peccadillo, and so on is the word for sinner. So what Luther is saying is that in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, what is happening here is that those who are justified are at the same time just and sinner. Now Luther's not engaging in contradiction here. He doesn't mean that we're just and sinner at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, it's a different sense that we are just from the sense in which we are sinner.
Now the good news of the gospel, according to Luther, is precisely at this point that what Luther is saying is that the glory of the gospel is that God pronounces people just while they are still sinners, that He declares a person to be righteous in His sight and before His law when under analysis they are still sinners. Now it is that judgment of declaring somebody just who in and of themselves is not just that creates so much of the controversy over the doctrine and has led some critics of the Reformation to say that the Reformers postulated a legal fiction that has God guilty of lying, saying that somebody is righteous when in fact they are not. But the biblical concept of justification rests upon God's reckoning or counting people to be something that in and of themselves they are not.
It reaches all the way back to the book of Genesis, to the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, when God made certain promises to the patriarch Abraham. And the author of Genesis tells us that Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. And what Paul speaks of in the New Testament is this same concept by which God accounts or reckons people who put their trust in Christ as being just not because their faith atones for all of their sins or because their faith is such a supreme form of righteousness that it covers all of our unrighteousness, but rather the reason why God counts us righteous is because of the work of Christ in our behalf. And so really the expression justification by faith alone is theological shorthand for justification by Christ alone.
Because the fundamental issue is this, on the basis of whose righteousness does God declare anyone just? And the Reformation answered that clearly, that the only grounds by which God will ever view me as being righteous is the grounds of somebody else's righteousness, the righteousness of Christ. Now part of the controversy of the sixteenth century rested on the etymological derivation of the word justification. Our English word justification comes from the Latin justificare, and in the medieval church what happened was the doctrine of justification began to be expounded in light of the background of the Latin Vulgate, the Latin interpretation or translation of the Bible, rather than on the basis of the Greek New Testament. And the problem that emerged as early as St. Augustine was that the term justificare in the old Roman judicial system meant to make righteous, to make righteous, justificare means to make. And so the idea began to emerge that God would never declare somebody to be righteous until He had first actually made them righteous in some manner.
Whereas according to the Reformers, the Greek New Testament word dikaiosune has to do with this accounting of people or reckoning people or deeming people to be righteous before they actually become righteous. Now I've often said that if you ask a six-year-old child in Sunday school, what did Jesus do for you? The child has learned enough in Sunday school to answer by saying, Jesus died on the cross for my sins. And we say, yes, that's true.
But what else? If all it would take to justify the ungodly is for Jesus to pay the negative penalty of the curse of God against evil, He could have come down from heaven and gone directly to the cross and then returned in glory. But instead He's born of the woman. He is submitted to the law, and His whole life is lived in rigorous obedience to every point of every requirement that God gives to His people.
Why? Why did He say to John, baptize me? It is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. Here the Reformers understood the place of the active obedience of Christ, that Christ not only paid the negative penalty for our sin, but He positively achieved perfect righteousness. You see, if all He did was pay for our guilt, that would just simply put us back to square one, put us back to the status Adam had before the fall.
Not guilty, innocent in the sense of not bearing any sin, but having no positive obedience to commend himself before God's justice, no basis for a righteous granting of reward, the granting of eternal life and of heaven. But Christ not only dies for us, He lived for us. That's the whole point of the gospel is that not only are my sins transferred to Him on the cross, but His perfect righteousness is transferred to me whenever I put my trust in Him. So, again, when God judges us and declares us just, He declares us just because Christ is just and because we are in Christ by faith. And that's why the instrumental cause of justification is faith, because it's faith that is the tool or the instrument that links us to Christ. Now, Luther insisted that the merit or the righteousness by which sinners are justified is what he called a eustitium alienum, a foreign justice or an alien righteousness, a righteousness that Luther said is extra, nos, extra, outside of us. If I have to wait before true righteousness manifests itself perfectly inside of me, how long will I have to wait to be justified?
I'll have to wait forever. But the good news of the gospel is that God justifies the ungodly freely by giving to all who believe a righteousness that is, properly speaking, not their own. It is somebody else's righteousness.
It is the righteousness of Christ that alone meets the test of the standard of God's perfect judgment. And so again, when we say that justification is by faith alone, this is mere shorthand for saying justification is by Christ alone because the grounds of our justification is the righteous merit of Christ who alone has perfect justice in the sight of God. And that is given to us freely when we believe. And so what's left for us to look at in this brief exposition is what do we mean that we're justified by faith? James tells us, you know, you believe in God, you do well, even the demons believe and tremble. And so it's possible for us to think of faith as simple intellectual assent to correct ideas. And if you say, well, do you believe that Jesus died for you?
And you say, yeah, yeah, I believe that. That doesn't constitute in and of itself saving faith. There are at least three elements to saving faith according to the Reformers that they distinguished.
First of all, notitia, which is the information, the data. There is content to the gospel that we must believe. We must believe that Jesus is our Savior. We must believe that He died on the cross for us. We must acknowledge it to be true that we are sinners before a holy God.
That's the information. The second element is assensus or intellectual assent. I have to agree that these things are true, that Jesus truly died for my sins. But again, it's not just passing a theology exam. A person can be aware of the information and even agree that it is true. But Satan knows the content, and Satan knows that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but he's not redeemed by that.
Why? Because the crucial element of saving faith is what's called fiducia or fiducia, which means personal trust and reliance. And saving faith is given to all of those who put their trust in Christ and in His righteousness and put their trust there alone. Now, the Reformers said that justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. The true faith, if you're really resting in Christ and you're really counted righteous by God, if you have true faith, that faith will immediately, necessarily and inevitably produce the fruit of sanctification. And if no fruit follows from your justification, it is perfect proof that there was no justification, because the idea of faith without the fruit of obedience is what James called a dead faith, and that can't justify anyone. So for Luther, justification is by a faith that he described as a fides viva, a faith that is alive, a faith that is vital, a faith that shows itself by faithfulness.
But again, the issue itself is how am I justified? Not by my own righteousness, not by my own merit, but by the righteousness of Christ and of Christ alone. That is a non-negotiable foundational tenet of the Christian faith.
We are saved by faith alone. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and we are pleased to feature R.C. Sproul's series, What is Reform Theology? As we look at the Christian landscape around us, we see a movement to dismiss theology and concentrate more on emotional experience. This teaching provides a biblical rebuttal to that line of thinking, and I think it's something that will be a great help to you and your family. There are 12 messages in this series on three DVDs, and we'd like to send that to you today for a donation of any amount. You can find us online at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. We'll also provide you with a digital copy of the study guide for the series to your online learning library. In order to rightly proclaim the truths of Scripture to a dying culture, we must understand them, and that's why we want to get this series into your hands.
Again, it's titled, What is Reform Theology? Call us with your gift of any amount at 800-435-4343. You can also make your request and give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org. And we are thankful for your generosity. Here in the last week of 2022, your donations are more critical than ever.
And if you plan on making a year end gift, please be sure to have it postmarked by Saturday the 31st. And on behalf of all of my colleagues here at Ligonier Ministries, thank you. Tomorrow we continue Dr. Sproul's series, What is Reform Theology?
And here's a preview. Some people just assume that the term original sin must refer to the first sin, the original, the first sin of Adam and Eve. But that's not what is referred to historically in the church by the doctrine of original sin. We'll find out the true meaning of original sin tomorrow. I hope you'll join us for the Friday edition of Renewing Your Mind.
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