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Sola Fide: Justified By Faith Alone - Romans 3:28

The beating heart of the gospel is that Christ’s righteousness is given to us as a gift of grace that we receive by faith, not as a reward that we achieve through our good works. Because of that gift, God declares that our sins are forgiven, and that we are righteous. That’s justification.

This biblical doctrine, taught most clearly in Paul’s epistles, was brought most fully into the light during the sixteenth century Reformation of the church, and has been passed down to us through the confessions, catechisms, sermons and songs of the Reformers and those who followed after them. Our church holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which expresses this doctrine in Chapter 11, especially paragraphs 1-2. A brief summary appears in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 33: “What is justification?” A. “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

Justification is God’s judicial verdict about you. The catechism’s definition assumes what Scripture makes clear in many places (ie, Rom. 3:23): all men are sinners in need of forgiveness. Unless God finds in your favor, you will be condemned. Justification is the good news that God declares you “not guilty”.

On what basis, though, does God accept you as righteous? How can God declare a sinner “not guilty”? Many people today think that simply by the sheer power of His will, God just chooses to declare guilty people innocent. But we are repeatedly told (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:8) that God will by no means clear the guilty! If He did, He would be forgetting about justice, righteousness, and truth. He would be lying. But God cannot lie; His judgment must be based on truth.

So the other way people try for a “not guilty” verdict is by doing their best to keep God’s law. But the law demands more than doing your best; it demands perfection. The terrible truth is that since you are a sinner, you are unable to keep the law perfectly, which means that you cannot be justified by the law. God cannot declare that you are righteous unless you really are righteous, and you cannot make yourself righteous by keeping the law.

The only way that you can be declared righteous by God is if someone else’s righteousness is given to you. This is something that you cannot earn or deserve; it can only come to you as a gracious gift. But the good news is that this gift of righteousness is exactly what is offered to you in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is what the Catechism teaches when it says that the righteousness of Christ is “imputed” to us. For something to be imputed to you means that it is counted as yours, even though you did not earn it or produce it; even though it did not originate with you in any way. This imputation happens when and because you are united to Jesus Christ, much like how a marriage unites two people as one. In this marriage, Christ’s riches of righteousness overwhelm the debt of your sin, and so your status before God changes accordingly.

God demands righteousness. You don’t have your own righteousness, and you can’t get it for yourself. Thanks be to God, the righteousness of Christ is given to you as a gift of grace! Because it is given to you, it really is yours, and so when God declares that you are righteous, He really is telling the truth.

So here’s the all-important question: how can you get married to Jesus? What is it that brings about this union which forms the basis for God’s “not guilty” verdict? The Bible’s answer is faith, trust, belief – this is what unites you to Jesus. Faith is not just knowing about Jesus, or the bare claim to believe in Jesus. Faith is a gracious gift of God, which He gives through His Word by His Spirit. When you hear the Word of God, the Spirit moves your heart to respond by believing in Jesus. True faith involves giving up any and all efforts to establish your own righteousness, and instead entrusting yourself completely to Jesus, counting on His righteousness to save you. By this faith, you are united to Jesus. Because of this union, God counts Christ’s righteousness as yours. On this basis, God declares that you are righteous in Christ.

This is a life-changing, heart-changing, world-changing truth, and by God’s grace, the recovery of this truth at the time of the Reformation is still changing the world today. To be Reformed means that we don’t put any trust in our own efforts; our faith is in Jesus Christ alone.

Posted on Wednesday, November 02, 2016 by CJ Bowen