Sinclair Ferguson says that sola Scriptura was not the most rank heresy of the Protestants in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. To be sure, the “papists” were not big fans of the declaration that Bible alone is the infallible source for church life and doctrine. It was the doctrine of assurance that Cardinal Robert Bellarmine posited as “the greatest of all Protestant heresies.” This may be because they want to make sure people lived holy lives. Although a noble sentiment, it results in a false gospel (so it guess it isn’t a noble sentiment). When we end up collapsing the fruit of justification with the grounds of justification we lose the gospel. The center of the gospel is justification by faith alone in Christ alone. But in our sin we long to add our contribution to the gospel. The cross is not offensive if circumcision is of some merit to our standing before the throne (Galatians 5).
Imagine this scenario. You stand before the throne of God. Think Isaiah 6. You are in the presence of the holiness of God in complete fullness. God is light and in Him is NO darkness, AT ALL. God is fiercely holy and glorious. He is perfect: omniscient and omnipotent, the sovereign over all things. God asks if you completed or cooperated enough with the inherent righteousness wrought within you. Who shall stand? Before the Father we must be perfect, not just forgiven. Not simply pardoned but justified. How can we do that if our righteousness is like filthy rags? If our righteousness before God is up to us in even the slightest fraction, we are damned. How can we know we are justified?
This is the biblical doctrine of assurance: that Christ has completed the work of the cross and through his resurrection and has applied that redemption infallibly through faith, justifying the ungodly based on the finished work of Christ. Romans 8:1 begins with the two words, “there is.” This may seem overly Puritanical (squeezing every word for its worth) but I think the contexts begs this observation. Obviously Romans 8 comes right after Romans 7. I personally take the view that Romans 7 details Paul’s life post-conversion. In short, Romans 7 is about the Christian life. In us we should not see and inherent righteousness. As re-born people, we love God and hate sin. But sin does still rear its ugly head. We delight in the law, something that a nonbeliever cannot do. We have true affections for Christ but we still are tempted and indeed we still fall all the time. What confidence can I have before the Father when I cannot even make myself want to read the Bible? Romans 8 tells us that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The subjective fighting and clawing is fueled by the objective gospel; our forensic justification that is entirely outside of ourselves. “There is” no condemnation. There is no question in Paul’s mind. Pastorally, he is not telling his people to produce more fruit so that they can be more right before God. There is certainly a place for being assured of salvation by the fruit of our lives. That must come and we should pursue it but only as a fruit and never the root. Our greatest assurance is that we are in Christ reconciled to God. We are not being reconciled to God but we have been reconciled to God by the gospel of Christ.
What beauty! Seriously, stop and think. If you have put your trust in Christ to save and satisfy, turned to Christ as Lord, Savior and Treasure then you shall assurance that at the last day you will be with Christ forever. There is no “if” when you are in Christ. We must see the absolute freeness of God’s grace who has done the work for His glory. God is just and the justifier of the ungodly. Amen.
Dr. Ferguson’s Article