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You write: That said, I do see that I was also accusatory and judgmental of you (or
your organization) in my statements. I am not actually sure if those are your own words, or those of a group of people.
TCE: We appreciate the manner in which you write and hope that you can see that
our judgement is based solely on the Word of God, as found in the Bible alone, and the words on our Web-site follow orthodox interpretation of the Bible and are the opinions of a large part of the body of Christ.
You write: I believe that those of us that are compassionate human beings on the path
of righteousness are truly saints. I also believe that is what we all aspire to. Unfortunately, many of us (including myself at times) get righteous about some very trivial things.
TCE: Equally, we understand that your definitions are based on your personal beliefs. When you talk of 'all' aspiring to be 'saints' you presumably exclude a considerable number of the human race whose actions belie your claims? It is also clear that the Biblical definition of 'saint' is totally at odds with a NAM definition. A Christian saint is one separated from the world and consecrated to God; one holy by profession and by covenant; and a believer in the Biblical Christ (Psalm 16:3; Romans 1:7; 8:27; Philippians 1:1; Hebrews 6:10 etc.). This word is also used of the holy dead (Matthew 27:52; Revelation 18:24) but was not used as a distinctive title of the apostles and evangelists and of a "spiritual nobility" till the Papal Roman Catholic Church tried to usurp it for their use in the fourth century. In that sense it is not a scriptural title. In Romans 15 (vv. 25 and 31) the word for "God's people" is "agioi" ("holy ones" or "saints"), and is always used by Paul to denote believers in Christ.
In a similar way the 'justification' and 'righteousness' claimed by you and other religions falls far short of the full justification promised in the New Testament to all believers: "And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:39). The 'justification' and 'righteousness' of Christians comes from one source only - belief in Christ. The Word of God tells believers, "… ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11). How and when do we gain right legal standing ('justification') before God?
For the Christian the gospel call (in which God calls us to trust in Christ for salvation), regeneration (in which God imparts new spiritual life to us), and conversion (in which we respond to the gospel call in repentance for sin and faith in Christ for salvation) deals with the guilt of our sin. The gospel call invited us to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins. Regeneration made it possible for us to respond to that invitation. In conversion we did respond, trusting in Christ for forgiveness of sins. Now the next step in the process of applying redemption to us is that God must respond to our faith and do what He promised, that is, actually declare our sins to be forgiven. This must be a legal declaration concerning our relationship to God's laws, stating that we are completely forgiven and no longer liable to punishment. A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith - and one of the massive obstacles to the claims of all other religions. Once Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he left the Papal Roman Catholic Church, became a Christian, and overflowed with the new-found joy of the gospel. The primary issue in the Protestant Reformation was a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over justification. Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works.
When Paul gives an overview of the process by which God applies salvation to us, he mentions justification explicitly: "Those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30). The word called here refers to the effective calling of the gospel, which includes regeneration and brings forth the response of repentance and faith (or conversion) on our part. After effective calling and the response that it initiates on our part, the next step in the application of redemption is "justification." Here Paul mentions that this is something that God himself does: "Those whom he called he also justified." Moreover, Paul quite clearly teaches that this justification comes after our faith and as God's response to our faith. He says that God "justifies him who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26), and that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Rom. 3:28). He says, "Since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). Moreover, "a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16).
Just what is justification? We may define it as follows: Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ's righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight. In explaining the elements of this definition, we will look first at the second half of it, the aspect of justification in which God "declares us to be righteous in his sight." The reason for treating these items in reverse order is that the emphasis of the New Testament in the use of the word justification and related terms is on the second half of the definition, the legal declaration by God. But there are also passages that show that this declaration is based on the fact that God first thinks of righteousness as belonging to us. So both aspects must be treated, even though the New Testament terms for justification focus on the legal declaration by God.
The use of the word justify in the Bible indicates that justification is a legal declaration by God. The verb justify in the New Testament (Greek: dikaioo) has a range of meanings, but a very common sense is "to declare righteous." For example, we read, "When they heard this all the people and the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John" (Luke 7:29). Of course the people and the tax collectors did not make God to be righteous - that would be impossible for anyone to do. Rather they declared God to be righteous. This is also the sense of the term in passages where the New Testament talks about us being declared righteous by God (Rom. 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:4, 10; Gal. 2:16; 3:24). This sense is particularly evident, for example, in Romans 4:5: "And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly his faith is reckoned as righteousness." Here Paul cannot mean that God "makes the ungodly to be righteous" (by changing them internally and making them morally perfect), for then they would have merit or works of their own to depend on. Rather, he means that God declares the ungodly to be righteous in his sight, not on the basis of their good works, but in response to their faith. Since all other religions believe - to some extent at least - that they have to seek or earn their 'justification' and 'righteousness', you can perhaps understand why we take the stance to which you are objecting. Other religions, including the NAM, have absolutely nothing to compare with the free offer of eternal life through belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was this offer that the thief on the cross accepted (Luke 23:39-43).
The idea that justification is a legal declaration is quite evident also when justification is contrasted with condemnation. Paul says, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?" (Rom. 8:33-34). To "condemn" someone is to declare that person guilty. The opposite of condemnation is justification which, in this context, must mean "to declare someone not guilty." This is also evident from the fact that God's act of justifying is given as Paul's answer to the possibility of someone bringing an accusation or "charge" against God's people: such a declaration of guilt cannot stand in the face of God's declaration of righteousness.
In the sense of "declare to be righteous" or "declare to be not guilty" Paul frequently uses the word to speak of God's justification of us, his declaration that we, though guilty sinners, are nonetheless righteous in his sight. It is important to emphasize that this legal declaration in itself does not change our internal nature or character at all. In this sense of "justify," God issues a legal declaration about us. This is why theologians have also said that justification is forensic where the word forensic means "having to do with legal proceedings." In God's legal declaration of justification, he specifically declares that we are just in his sight. This declaration involves two aspects. First, it means that he declares that we have no penalty to pay for sin, including past, present, and future sins. After a long discussion of justification by faith alone (Rom. 4:1-5:21), and a parenthetical discussion on remaining sin in the Christian life, Paul returns to his main argument in the book of Romans and tells what is true of those who have been justified by faith: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). In this sense those who are justified have no penalty to pay for sin. This means that we are not subject to any charge of guilt or condemnation, as shown earlier: "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?" (Rom. 8:33-34).
The idea of full forgiveness of sins is prominent when Paul discusses justification by faith alone in Romans 4. Paul quotes David as pronouncing a blessing on one "to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works." He then recalls how David said, "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin" (Rom. 4:6-8). This justification therefore clearly involves the forgiveness of sins. David spoke similarly in Psalm 103:12, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (cf. v. 3).
The second aspect of justification is that God declares us to be righteous in his sight. In fact, he must declare us to have the merits of perfect righteousness before him. The Old Testament sometimes spoke of God as giving such righteousness to his people even though they had not earned it themselves. Isaiah says, "He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10). But Paul speaks more specifically about this in the New Testament. As a solution to our need for righteousness, Paul tells us that "the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Rom. 3:21-22). He says, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:3; quoting Gen. 15:6). This came about through the obedience of Christ, for Paul says at the end of this extensive discussion of justification by faith that "by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). The second aspect of God's declaration in justification, then, is that we have the merits of perfect righteousness before him.
How can God declare that we have no penalty to pay for sin, and that we have the merits of perfect righteousness, if we are in fact guilty sinners? How can God declare us to be not guilty but righteous when in fact we are unrighteous? God imputes Christ's righteousness to us - meaning that God thinks of Christ's righteousness as belonging to us, or regards it as belonging to us. He "reckons" it to our account. We read, "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:3, quoting Gen. 15:6). Paul explains, "To one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works" (Rom. 4:6). In this way, Christ's righteousness became ours. Paul says that we are those who received "the free gift of righteousness" (Rom. 5:17).
When Christ suffered and died for our sins, our sin was imputed to Christ; God thought of it as belonging to him, and he paid the penalty for it. In the doctrine of justification we see that Christ's righteousness is imputed to us, and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us. It is not our own righteousness but Christ's righteousness that is freely given to us. So Paul can say that God made Christ to be "our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). And Paul says that his goal is to be found in Christ, "not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil. 3:9). Paul knows that the righteousness he has before God is not anything of his own doing; it is the righteousness of God that comes through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 3:21-22).
So the Christian gospel insists, on the Biblical evidence, that God declares us to be just or righteous not on the basis of our actual condition of righteousness or holiness, but rather on the basis of Christ's perfect righteousness, which he thinks of as belonging to us. This was the heart of the difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism at the Reformation. Protestantism since the time of Martin Luther has insisted that justification does not change us internally and it is not a declaration based in any way on any goodness that we have in ourselves. If justification changed us internally and then declared us to be righteous based on how good we actually were, then (1) we could never be declared perfectly righteous in this life, because there is always sin that remains in our lives, and (2) there would be no provision for forgiveness of past sins (committed before we were changed internally), and therefore we could never have confidence that we are right before God. We would lose the confidence that Paul has when he says, "Therefore, since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). If we thought of justification as based on something that we are internally we would never have the confidence to say with Paul, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). We would have no assurance of forgiveness with God, no confidence to draw near to him "with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb. 10:22). We would not be able to speak of "the free gift of righteousness" (Rom. 5:17), or say that "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
That is what Martin Luther so clearly saw and that is what gave such motivation to the Reformation. When the good news of the gospel truly became the good news of totally free salvation in Jesus Christ, then it spread like wildfire throughout the civilized world. But this was simply a recovery of the original gospel, which declares, "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23), and insists that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
Paul explains in Romans 1:18-3:20 that no one will ever be able to make himself righteous before God ("For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law," Rom. 3:20), then Paul goes on to explain that "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-24). God's "grace" means his "unmerited favour." Because we are completely unable to earn favour with God, the only way we could be declared righteous is if God freely provides salvation for us by grace, totally apart from our work. Paul explains, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Titus 3:7). Grace is clearly put in contrast to works or merit as the reason why God is willing to justify us. God did not have any obligation to impute our sin to Christ or to impute Christ's righteousness to us; it was only because of His unmerited favour that He did this.
In distinction from the error of Roman Catholic teaching (and the many other variations on the same error) that we are justified by God's grace plus some merit of our own as we make ourselves fit to receive the grace of justification and as we grow in this state of grace though our good works, the Bible clearly teaches that justification comes by grace alone, not by grace plus some merit on our part. Paul makes this sequence clear when he says, "We have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Gal. 2:16). Here Paul indicates that faith comes first and it is for the purpose of being justified. He also says that Christ is "to be received by faith" and that God "justifies him who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25, 26). The entire chapter of Romans 4 is a defence of the fact that we are justified by faith, not by works, just as Abraham and David themselves were. Paul says, "We are justified by faith" (Rom. 5:1).
Scripture never says that we are justified because of the inherent goodness of our faith, as if our faith has merit before God. It never allows us to think that our faith in itself earns favour with God. Rather, Scripture says that we are justified "by means of" our faith, understanding faith to be the instrument through which justification is given to us, but not at all an activity that earns us merit or favour with God. Rather, we are justified solely because of the merits of Christ's work (Rom. 5:17-19).
But we may ask why God chose faith to be the attitude of heart by which we would obtain justification. Why could God not have decided to give justification to all those who sincerely show love? Or who show joy? Or contentment? Or humility? Or wisdom? Why did God choose faith as the means by which we receive justification?
It is apparently because faith is the one attitude of heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. When we come to Christ in faith we essentially say, "I give up! I will not depend on myself or my own striving after good works any longer. I know that I can never make myself righteous before God. Therefore, Jesus, I trust you and depend on you completely to give me a righteous standing before God." In this way, faith is the exact opposite of trusting in ourselves, and therefore it is the attitude that perfectly fits salvation that depends not at all on our own merit but entirely on God's free gift of grace. Paul explains this when he says, "That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants" (Rom. 4:16). This is why the Reformers from Martin Luther on were so firm in their insistence that justification comes not through faith plus some merit or good work on our part, but only through faith alone. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul repeatedly says that "no human being will be justified in his sight by works of law" (Rom. 3:20); the same idea is repeated in Galatians 2:16; 3:11; 5:4.
The practical implications of the doctrine of justification by faith alone are very significant. First, this doctrine offers genuine hope to unbelievers who recognise the clear truth that none of us can ever make ourselves righteous before God: if salvation is a free gift to be received through faith alone then anyone who hears the gospel may know that eternal life is freely offered and will be obtained.
Second, this doctrine gives us confidence that God will never make us pay the penalty for sins that have been forgiven on Christ's merits. Of course, we may continue to suffer the ordinary consequences of sin (an alcoholic who quits drinking may still have physical weakness for the rest of his or her life, and a thief who is justified may still have to go to jail to pay the penalty for his or her crime). Moreover, God may discipline us if we continue to act in ways that are disobedient to him (see Heb. 12:5-11), doing this out of love and for our own good. But God can never nor will ever take vengeance on us for past sins or make us pay the penalty that is due for them or punish us out of wrath and for the purpose of doing us harm. " There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1). This fact gives Christians a great sense of joy and confidence before God that we are accepted by him and that we stand before him as "not guilty" and "righteous" forever.
This leads us to ask serious questions:
How can NAM beliefs ever lead to certain knowledge that you are righteous and justified in the sight of God?
Wouldn't you like to be 100% confident that God had declared you "not guilty" forever in his sight?
What could you ever do on your own that would result in God totally justifying you as the true Christ of the Bible offers?
If you think of yourself standing before God on the day of judgment, do you think that it would be enough simply to offer your own 'good works/righteousness' to justify yourself, or would you rather have the righteousness of Christ reckoned to your 'account?'
How can NAM beliefs in doctrines such as reincarnation, with repeated cycles of life in which you never know whether you have been 'good/righteous' enough, ever compare with the unsurpassable offer of total justification/righteousness in Christ?
(Continued on page 361)