Ask Steve: Justification by Faith


Currently Reading:

The Gospel Call & True Conversion

by Paul Washer

Category: Theology / Soteriology

2013, Reformation Heritage Books





Question: Steve, I am learning new concepts from Reformed theology, such as “justification by faith alone.” Can you tell me what this phrase means?

Answer: Even though the term “justification by faith alone” is a doctrine that was defined during the 16th century Reformation, its truth is apparent throughout Scripture. The principle of justification by faith is the teaching that all sinners are saved in the Bible by repentant faith in Christ. Even the Old Testament saints were saved by faith in God, in which God credited the righteousness of Christ to their accounts when they believed in the salvific promises of God (Gen 15:6; Heb 11). One’s personal morality or works have nothing to do with this salvation process, and is not compatible with the idea of faith (Rom 3:28; Eph 2:8-9, Tit 3:5).

Justification by faith as 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. This doctrine is at the core of Christian soteriology because it speaks of the means by which salvation comes to sinners. We do not achieve salvation by our works, self-righteousness, or any sense of personal morality. In other words, we do not add to our salvation, and to the finished work of Christ, by any actions or merits of our own. Rather, salvation comes to us by God’s grace alone, which is applied to us when we exercise faith in Jesus alone (Jn 3:16; Rom 10:9).

It is by faith alone that we are justified in God’s sight, which means we are judicially declared no longer guilty and culpable for our sins, but are innocent in the forensic sense. Our guilt and debt is not only taken away, but we are counted as perfect and righteousness because of Christ’s righteousness. We are imputed the righteousness of Christ (Christ’s perfect, sinless life lived on our behalf) when we are united to Jesus Christ by faith. This act brings us a righteous standing before God (Romans 3:20, 26, 28). God sees the righteousness of Christ in us when we abide in Christ by faith (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our own righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6) and will be judged justly by God. That is why we need the righteousness of Christ to clothe us. That righteousness comes to us solely by faith and not by any of our own personal merits to earn or deserve it. 

Because of Christ’s active obedience (perfect conformity to God’s moral law), He was acknowledged by the Father as the only righteous and just man who ever lived. On the cross, He fulfilled the justice of God and turned God’s wrath away from the elect. When a sinner believes by faith, God takes Christ’s just life and imputes it to the sinner’s life, counting him as just in God’s sight as if he had perfectly fulfilled the law.

This is the essence of justification by faith. By faith alone, the work of Christ is credited to our account so we can be declared innocent, just, righteous, and holy, and have eternal life in the presence of a righteous, holy Lord forever. Any teaching that distorts justification by faith (ex. faith plus works, justification as not a one-time event but a process) attacks the heart of the gospel and does not lead to saving faith, for it is a different gospel altogether.