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Protestant View of Justification

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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October 31, 2023 12:01 am

Protestant View of Justification

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 31, 2023 12:01 am

How can God count us as righteous even while we are still sinners? Today, R.C. Sproul explains the doctrine of justification by faith alone, a profound truth that testifies to both the justice and the grace of God in redeeming His people.

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In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God's scrutiny, we still have sin. We're still sinners.

But by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. Happy Reformation Day. On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This one act provoked a debate that would ultimately lead to the Protestant Reformation, the rediscovery of the Gospel, the bold proclamation of the Gospel, and the transformation of Western society.

I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and you're listening to Renewing Your Mind. As we look back on the Reformation, we're not celebrating a man. We're celebrating the work of God. We're expressing gratitude for God's preserving and building of His church, and for a Gospel that is truly good news. Today, R.C. Sproul will carefully walk us through the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which if denied is a denial of the Gospel itself.

Here's Dr. Sproul. In our last two sessions in this course on Luther and the Reformation, we looked at the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification. And tonight we're going to begin a look at the Reformation view of justification in contrast to the Roman view. And of course, we know that the motto of the Reformation during the 16th century with respect to the doctrine of justification was contained in the two words sola fide. Added to that statement, the Reformers came up with four other solas, sola scriptura, sola gratia, solus Christus, and sola Deo gloria, all five of these pointing to the central importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But that little formula, sola fide, simply means by faith, faith alone. And as we saw in our study of Roman Catholicism that the Roman communion also strongly affirms that faith is necessary for justification.

In fact, we saw that it was a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition. You can't have justification without faith, but you can have faith without justification. So the point of the controversy between Luther and the rest of the magisterial Reformers with Rome focused on this word sola, that justification was by faith alone. Now, sometimes when you have mottos and jingles like this, it can oversimplify matters by a great degree because people ask me, well, isn't it also necessary in order to be justified to repent?

And we say, of course it is. But in the Reformation concept of faith, repentance, though we may distinguish it from faith in one sense, nevertheless is understood as an integral part of that faith that justifies. And the term sola fide is simply shorthand for the idea that justification is by Christ alone, that we put our faith in what Jesus has done for us and by and by putting our faith in Him, we find our justification.

And so we can set forth the different formulae from the sixteenth century. The Roman Catholic view would be something like this. Faith plus works equals justification. Antinomianism, which abounds even in American evangelicalism, believes that faith equals justification minus works. Whereas the Reformed view of the question, which I believe is the biblical view of course, is that faith equals justification plus works. Now notice that the works is on that side of the equation, not on this side of the equation, because whatever work that we do as Christians adds absolutely nothing to the ground of our justification.

God does not declare us just because of any works that we do. It is by faith and faith alone that we receive the gift of justification. Just a quick reading from Romans chapter 3, verse 19.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law that every mouth might be stopped and that all the world might become guilty before God. Therefore, this is Paul's conclusion here, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. And now as the Apostle explains more fully the doctrine of justification, he sets it in contrast to justification through the works of the law, where he says, But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

For there is no difference. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood through faith to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. If you recall, in the early sections of this study, we saw Luther's so-called tower experience when he was preparing his lectures on Paul's letter to the Romans, where he came to that awakening that the righteousness by which we are justified, the righteousness of God is not that righteousness by which God Himself is righteous, but that righteousness that He provides for sinful people who receive it by faith. Now, at the very heart of the controversy in the 16th century was the question, what was the ground by which God would ever declare anybody righteous in His sight? We know the question, if the Lord would mark iniquity, who would stand? That is to say, if we have to stand before God based upon His perfect justice and perfect judgment of our performance, none of us would be able to stand.

Altogether, we would fall because, as Paul reiterates here, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. And so the pressing question of justification is, how can an unjust person ever be justified in the presence of a righteous and holy God? Now, in our last session, when I was explaining the Roman Catholic view, I talked about the idea of the Roman view being what we call analytic view, which is the idea of analytical justification. And I explained to you what that meant, that an analytical statement is a statement that is true by definition, two plus two is four, or a bachelor is an unmarried man. There is nothing in the predicate that is not already contained in the subject.

No new information is provided or added to the analysis of the subject itself. And in the Roman view of justification, God will only declare a person just when under His perfect analysis, He finds that they are just, that righteousness is inherent in them. Remember, they can't have that righteousness without faith. They can't have it without grace.

They can't have it without the assistance of Christ. But nevertheless, given all those ingredients in the final analysis, true righteousness must be present in the soul of a person before God will ever, ever declare them just. Now, in contrast to the analytical view of justification, that is the Roman view, is the Reformation view that justification is synthetic, synthetic rather than analytical. Now, what does that mean? A synthetic statement is a statement is a statement where something new is added in the predicate that is not analytically contained in the subject. If I said to you, the bachelor was a poor man, I have told you something new in the second part of the sentence that wasn't already contained simply in the word bachelor because though all bachelors are unmarried men, not all bachelors are poor unmarried men.

We have wealthy bachelors who are unmarried. And so when we talk about poverty or wealth, it's something that's not automatically inherent in the idea of bachelorhood. We are saying something new. There is a synthesis as it were, something that was added to the subject. And what we mean by that when we talk about the Reformation view of justification that it is synthetic is that when God declares a person to be just in His sight, it's not because of what He finds in that person under His analysis, but rather on the grounds or on the basis of something that is added to that person. And that something that is added to that person is the righteousness of Christ. Now, in this regard, Luther insisted that the righteousness by which we are justified is a righteousness that Luther called extra nos, nos, meaning apart from us or outside of us. He also called it a eustitium alienum, that is an alien righteousness, not a righteousness that properly belongs to us, but a righteousness that is foreign to ourselves, that is alien to us.

It comes from outside the sphere of my own behavior. And, of course, with both of these terms, Luther was speaking about the righteousness of Christ. Now, if there's any word that was at the center of the firestorm of the 16th century controversy and remains central to the debate even in our day, it is the word imputation. And you really can't understand what the Reformation was about without understanding the central importance of this one word. There were all kinds of meetings after the Diet of Worms in trying to repair the schism that was taking place in the 16th century, all kinds of efforts where theologians from the Roman Persuasion met together with the magisterial Reformed theologians trying to resolve the difficulties, trying to preserve the unity of the church and the one word that they couldn't get past. The one word that the Roman communion choked on was this word imputation.

And so we need to understand what that is all about. When Paul is explaining the doctrine of justification, he uses as his exhibit A the patriarch Abraham, going back to chapter 15 of Genesis where we read in that text that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Abraham was still a sinner. The rest of the history and the narrative of the life and the actions of Abraham revealed that he was still with sin. Nevertheless, God counted him righteous because he believed in the promise.

In this sense, to impute means to transfer legally to somebody's account, to reckon something to be to be there. And so Paul speaks of God's counting Abraham as righteous or reckoning him as righteous even though in and of himself Abraham was not yet righteous. And so there's a huge difference between the infusion of grace that we looked at the last time whereby according to Rome in the sacraments the grace of God is poured into the soul of the believer, and on the basis of that infused righteousness that person becomes inherently righteous and is therefore judged by God to be righteous. But what Luther was saying and the rest of the Reformers is no, the ground of our justification is when God imputes somebody else's righteousness to our account. And of course what is charged to our account, reckoned to our account, is the righteousness of Christ. Now, perhaps the formula that Luther used that is most famous and most telling at this point is his formula simul justus et picator. And if any formula summarizes the essence of the Reformation view, it is this little formula. Simul is the word from which we get the English word simultaneously.

Or it means at the same time, justus is the Latin word for just or righteous. And you all know what et is. Et is the past tense of the verb to eat. Have you et your dinner?

No. No, you know that's not what that means. You remember in the death scene of Caesar after he's been stabbed by Brutus, he says et tu, brute, then fall Caesar.

And you too, Brutus. It simply means and. Picator means sinner. And so, with this formula, Luther was saying, in our justification, we are at one and the same time righteous or just and sinners. Now, if he would say that we are at the same time and in the same relationship, just and sinners, that would be a contradiction in terms.

But that's not what he was saying. He was saying from one perspective, in one sense, we are just. In another sense, from a different perspective, we are sinners.

And how he defines that is simple. In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God's scrutiny, we still have sinned. We're still sinners. But by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous.

This is the very heart of the gospel. Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I had the trust in my righteousness to get into heaven, I would completely and utterly despair of any possibility of ever being redeemed. Of ever being redeemed. But when we see that the righteousness that is ours by faith is the perfect righteousness of Christ, then we see how glorious is the good news of the gospel.

The good news is simply this. I can be reconciled to God. I can be justified by God, not on the basis of what I did, but on the basis of what's been accomplished for me by Christ. Now, it's a strange thing to me that Rome reacted so negatively to the idea of imputation, because in their own doctrine of the atonement, they certainly believe that our sins are imputed to Jesus on the cross. Otherwise, there's no value of Jesus atoning death for us. So the idea, the principle of atonement is there.

Not only is it there, but when you talk about getting the indulgences through the transfer of merit from the treasury of merit, how else do you receive those merits except by imputation? But at the heart of the gospel is a double imputation. My sin is imputed to Jesus. His righteousness is imputed to me. And in this twofold transaction, we see that God, who does not negotiate sin, who doesn't compromise His own integrity with our salvation, but rather punishes sin fully and really after it has been imputed to Jesus, retains His own righteousness, and so He is both just and the justifier as the Apostle tells us here. So my sin goes to Jesus. His righteousness comes to me in the sight of God, which is an incredible thing.

And as I said, this is worth dying for. This is worth dividing the church over. This is the article upon which the church stands or falls because it's the article upon which I stand or fall, and the article upon which you stand or fall. We must stand firm and be uncompromising in our convictions, never allowing the gospel to be watered down, distorted, or replaced. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and for almost three decades, we have unflinchingly proclaimed this gospel, and by God's grace, we will not be moved. On this Reformation Day edition of Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul helped us understand the Protestant and biblical view of justification in contrast with what the Roman Catholic Church teaches, and this message is part of Dr. Sproul's Luther and the Reformation series.

Included in that series are messages that break down even further the teachings of Rome, along with reviewing Rome's response to the Reformation and more of the story of Luther. When you give your gift at, we'll give you lifetime access to the series, plus we'll send you the Luther and the Reformation book by Dr. Sproul. Whether you grew up in the church or you're a new believer, this is our family history. I personally find that Luther's story gives me courage and boldness to stand firm today.

This is the final day to request these two resources for a gift of any amount, so call us at 800-435-4343 or visit And if you're a regular listener but you've never taken that step of giving to this daily global outreach, perhaps you'd consider doing that today to help others hear the clear proclamation of the gospel and trusted Bible teaching. Every gift makes a difference, so thank you for showing your support this Reformation Day at

Not sure what to watch tonight? I do want to remind you that for a limited time you can stream the entire Luther documentary for free on Ligonier's YouTube channel. Simply search for Luther documentary and you'll see it there offered by Ligonier Ministries. Martin Luther loved the Psalms. He called the book of Psalms a little Bible. Well, W. Robert Godfrey, the chairman of Ligonier Ministries, will join us tomorrow and the rest of the week to help us better love, read and study the Psalms. I look forward to you joining us then here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-31 06:56:11 / 2023-10-31 07:04:08 / 8

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