Justification by faith alone. Sola Fide. The hinge of the Reformation. The doctrine of the standing or falling church. Luther was willing to die for it. So was Calvin. But today, we can hardly be bothered to get all worked up about it. Sure, medieval Catholicism was a mess and all of that. But have you read the really cool stuff NT Wright has to say? And some of those FV guys are pretty clever.
If sin is manageable, I guess justification isn’t such a big deal. If justification is about a first century church fight between James and Paul, about Jews and Gentiles, about who’s in and who’s out, I guess we can all lighten up. And we might as well put on our speedos, swim the Tiber, and apologize to the pope.
Why did Luther and Calvin get in such a huff again?
Either they were complete idiots. Or they knew they were sinners, without a prayer before a just God – apart from the God-man who lived and died and rose again for their justification.
I’m with Luther, and what he confessed in 1537: “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:24-25)… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:28)… Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls… Upon this article everything that we teach and practice depends, in opposition to the pope, the devil, and the whole world. Therefore, we must be certain and not doubt this doctrine. Otherwise, all is lost, and the pope, the devil, and all adversaries win the victory and the right over us.” – Smalcald Articles, The Second Part, Article I (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Concordia Publishing House, 2006).
You can take JBFA from the confessional Lutherans when you pry it from their cold, dead fingers. You gotta love ‘em for that. I know I do.
Why do some of the allegedly Reformed shrug away JBFA? For some, it’s minimized as just one doctrine among many. For others, it’s viewed as an entirely misguided enterprise. I find this all quite mystifying. It makes me mad. And it makes me sad. I think they need more Law. 200 proof, straight-up LAW. I think they need to be stripped of their smarty pants fig leaf – and stand buck naked as sinners before a holy God.
I think we all need to ponder this question: How are you righteous before God? Think about that. Seriously.
Here’s my answer:
“Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.” – Heidelberg Catechism 60 (RCUS, 2011)
Do I hear echoes of Luther in that? Oh, wait. That’s the Gospel talking.