Justification through Jesus’ faithfulness or ours?

I was just over at soundchurch.org where Josh made the statement “Our salvation is by both trust in the One Who is just and faithfulness to the One Who is just.” This statement made me wonder whether the term “sound church” means solid and trustworthy or if it means there is just a lot of sound.

Now perhaps he meant to say exactly what the statement implies, but, for now, I am willing to cut him some slack and assume he was simply being imprecise. After all, “love believes all things,” right? The statement along with his entire post makes it appear that he has been drinking at the fountain of N.T. Wright and “The New Perspective on Paul.”
I left the following comment to his post:

There is no question that your statements are self-contradictory.  Perhaps, they would be less so if, rather than using the general term, “salvation,” you would specify which aspect of salvation you are talking about.  Since “salvation” encompasses both justification and sanctification, it is true that the latter involves our faithfulness.  Still yours is a dangerous and misleading statement.  

When Jesus talked about Abraham’s works, there was no suggestion that he would be declared righteous in the day of judgement based on his faith and his faithfulness, i.e., works.  In John 6:28  the Jews asked Jesus a question. “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?'”

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  It was in this sense the Jews addressed in John 8 were failing to do the works of Abraham.  Abraham acted as he did because he believed as he did.  He rejoiced in the coming Messiah; the Jews wanted to kill him.

When Paul talked about justification through faith alone, he was answering the question, “What justifies before God, faith or works?”  When James declared that “a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” he did so in a context in which he is answering a completely different question.  That question was not, “What is the means through which sinners are justified, faith or works of obedience?”  The question he was answering concerned the nature of justifying faith.  “Can a faith that does not produce obedience be the means of justification before God?”  Of course not,  since it is not faith.  True faith will produce obedience, but to say that salvation is both by trust in the one who is just and faithfulness to the one who is just is terribly misleading.

Since I posted the above, Josh responded to my comment and assured me he was not talking about earning our justification but about sanctification. Though some of the statements he made disturbed me, I was doing pretty well giving him the benefit of the doubt until he made the following analogy:

The analogy of marriage can clear up some your misunderstanding about how actions do not “earn”, but might be “necessary.” On my wedding day, I promised to love and be faithful to my wife. We made a covenant. My actions/deeds did not buy or merit or earn her love, however, my faithfulness will maintain that covenant. If I demonstrate a lack of faithfulness, I can break that covenant and our marriage could end in divorce. To reiterate: faithfulness does not earn covenant blessing, but a lack of faithfulness can destroy that covenant.(emphasis mine). This is why salvation is often compared with marriage in Scripture and why the Bride in Rev. 19 is clothed with linen that symbolizes the deeds of the saints

Now, I don’t want to misrepresent his position and he is free to correct me if this is not what he is saying, but the following seems to be his meaning.

God has entered into a covenant with us based on the redemptive work of Christ alone [he denies the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to believers in justification]. As a blessing of that covenant, we are justified before God apart from our own works. We do not earn justification. Still, if we act unfaithfully we can break the covenant. It appears from his analogy, that God would divorce us at that point.

For me, the question at this point is, how much faithfulness does God require? Let’s use his analogy. Suppose he was only sexually unfaithful to his wife one time and in his heart he didn’t mean it, he just wanted a sexual thrill, would that be enough to break the marriage covenant, or would he have to be unfaithful repeatedly and habitually? The answer is, it doesn’t matter whether he is unfaithful one time or many times, he has still been unfaithful. If you have no positive righteouness imputed to your account but are only pardoned, then all the positive righteousness is up to you. The maintenance of the covenant is your responsiblity. Since justification is a blessing of the covenant, that means the maintenance of justification is my responsibility. I can have it by faith alone, but I must keep it by my life long obedience.

Then, he posted this:

The only thing we can do to attain justification is have faith in Jesus to whom we must be faithful in all things for the rest of our lives (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:2), if we want to inherit salvation of the Father and heaven (Emphasis mine) (John 14:6).

Perhaps you are more holy than I, but I must confess that if that were the case, God would have cast me off long ago. This is why it is important to understand that we are not under law, but under grace. If those under the law failed to continue in all the commandments that were written in the book of the law, they were under a curse. It was for this reason that God cast them off. Why are we not under law? Because Jesus, our representative, has been faithful to all the covenant obligations under which he was placed. He has fulfilled that covenant once for all. He has filled it up with obedience and cancelled its curse for all who are in him. We are no longer under that covenant. We are under a new and everlasting covenant that is based on Jesus’ faithfulness to fulfill all the demands of the first covenant. Describing the blessings of God’s new covenant of promise, the author of Hebrews wrote,

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:17-20).

The integrity of the covenant depends on Jesus’ faithfulness, not ours.

If he were right, and our final justification depended on our faithfulness, not a single one of us would arrive in heaven safely.

These two doctrines (single imputation and covenant maintenance by our faithfulness) he is teaching go together, and this is why they think double imputation is dangerous.  If believers are really secure, we are in a dangerous position since we don’t have to do a single thing to maintain the covenant and the justification that flows from it.  If he were right, Romans six and seven would have been unnecessary or would have read much much differently. Paul would have written something like, “What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin since we have been forgiven for everything we have done to this point? God forbid, because if we are unfaithful to the covenant, God will divorce us.” That, my brethren, is another gospel.


1 Response to “Justification through Jesus’ faithfulness or ours?”

  1. March 9, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    I can’t remember how many times I have tried explaining the real question that was being answered in James about saving faith!

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