No, it does not. It is in our best interest to get this squarely out of the way from the get go. Nothing could be more injurious to the child of God or even those not in Christ than to charge that our works (Spirit-wrought or not) are in any way a ground for our acceptance before God. To compromise the purity of the gospel for the sake of holy living will not accomplish it’s intended work. Those who begin to find their holiness, in any measure, as contributing to their justification are on a slippery slope that may very well lead to outright gospel denial. The free imputation of Christ’s righteousness by faith alone stands as the greatest motivation to holy living and in no way (when rightly applied) undermines sanctification.

But the charge is not new, is it? In fact it is quite old. The famed Methodist founder, John Wesley, for all the good God did through him, was hesitant to preach justification by the obedience of Christ. Wesley never quite shook his legalistic background and it showed here on this point. The system of thought called Wesleyan Arminianism is littered with synergistic sentiments, allowing for human effort as having a decisive role in salvation. Before Wesley, there was the great Neonomian controversy. These men held a similar view to Wesley. Even the great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter brought great harm to his hearers by confusing justification and sanctification, compromising to the point that his confessional stance would look more like Trent than Westminster. The charge is older still. This idea that justification by faith alone will inevitably lead to a life of blatant sin is as old as the first century.

Paul, the master theologian, anticipates questions that might come from his clear teaching on justification based on the righteousness of Christ. The main question was that which was raised by Wesley and Baxter. The beginning of Romans 6 reads: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” It is important to see why this question could have been raised. Paul lays out the thesis of Romans in verse 16-17. God’s righteousness (His justice and holiness) must be satisfied by the gift of His righteousness to ruined sinners. Starting then in verse 18, Paul begins to tell us why. In contrast the God’s holiness, man is sinful. All have chosen to rebel against the glory of God. We only sin because we are sinners. At our very core we hate God. We have attempted the exchange of God’s glory for our own glory. For this reason, God’s wrath is being revealed. His wrath is inextricably tied to His worth. The devaluing of His namesake is the greatest of all evils. Yet to us, it is commonplace and is the very object of our delight and affection. Romans 2 turns to the Jews who have likewise transgressed the law. We begin to see that the law was not meant to help us be justified by our own obedience. It becomes increasing clear that even our best efforts fall woefully short of God’s righteous standard. It is not a matter of being “good enough,” but rather perfection. This all comes to a head in verses 10-18 of chapter 3. They read:

[10] as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; [11] no one understands; no one seeks for God. [12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” [13] “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” [14] “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” [15] “Their feet are swift to shed blood; [16] in their paths are ruin and misery, [17] and the way of peace they have not known.” [18] “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

This litany of Old Testament quotations serves the purpose explained in the following verses. All men are dead in sin, unwilling and unable to contribute in any way to their salvation. Brothers, this is a call to sober reckoning on our parts. God grant us eyes to see just how bad we were.

Paul, finally, moves to the good news of the gospel. The good news is not that if we try hard enough, and mean well enough, then we might be saved. Justifcation is what we need. Justification is the declaring of one as righteous. Righteous is defined by God. Therefore we are to be as just as God Himself. The good and scandalous news of the gospel is that God has justified the ungodly, not by overlooking sin but by punishing it on Christ, who has been put forth as a wrath-bearing atonement for sin. Romans 4-5 detail the great gospel doctrine of justification. It is the simple turning and trusting Christ that makes one righteous, not in practice but in standing. Paul uses Abraham and David as prime examples. If their salvation was dependent on even their best days, they are utterly lost. Romans 5 ends in this way:

[18] Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. [19] For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. [20] Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:18-21 ESV)

In Adam we have all inherited sin. But now, in Christ, we are counted righteous because of the obedience of Christ. So then, our confidence before God can be sure because Christ has saved us to the uttermost. He has not only forgiven us. That would be good. However, it would lead to our eternal condemnation. The positive commands of the law must be met in order to have fellowship with a holy God. A denial of justification by faith is always accompanied with a subtle shift in our doctrine of God. With God at the center of the gospel, we are saved from a whole host of errors. Grace is great that our sin, as it overcomes our resistance, lifting our eyes to sin the heinous nature of our sin and causing us to cast ourselves completely on the merit of Christ. “Hallelujah, all I have is Christ. Hallelujah, Christ is my life.”

It is at this point that Romans 6 begins. The logic, in a human way, makes sense. What is to stop someone saved from God’s wrath from living however they want? We must not be reactionary, however. We must instead labor by God’s grace to be biblical. The answer to license is not legalism. The lack of holiness of our churches is not to be answered by “raising the stakes” as it were, but by preaching the gospel of free grace. Because when we do that faithfully and tease out all of its implications, we will see a much holier people than if we spy our own freedom in Christ (Gal. 2:4). Let’s see how Paul answered the objection.

It will do us much good to humble ourselves under the Word of God. We are never want of that need. The truth is, this objection has been answered already by the Holy Spirit. It is not humility to ask questions in order to undermine clear biblical doctrine that the Bible has already answered. Paul says that the justified will be sanctified. If men persist in unrighteousness, it is not because they have come to Christ by faith alone. No. If man is still in love with sin, he does not love God. That is the clear warning of Scripture. By grace alone through faith alone we are made good trees. But good trees must bear good fruit (Matt. 7). Good works serve as evidence of justification, not as contributing to it. Paul gives two reasons why the justified will live holy lives: we are dead to sin and alive to God.

Paul begins his explanation by saying that those who are dead to sin cannot live in it. In other words, those who are justified must be sanctified. Sanctification flows out of justification and not vice versa. The former is the beautiful Christian life of Scripture. The former is an ugly perversion of gospel truth. We are dead to sin because Christ has died for that sin. The debt that stood against us is cancelled. Justification has saved us from the condemnation of sin, but the work of Christ received by faith also leads to the breaking of sin’s dominion. Repentance and faith always come together. If one claims to have faith but has evidenced no turning away from sin, then we must exhort them to come to Christ by faith for the first time. How can we, who have seen the ugliness of our sin, who have seen our Savior punished for our rebellion, still love our sin? We cannot. Only those who have seen the necessity of justification by faith alone will hate their sin.

The justified are also alive to God. The justified pursue holy lives because they love God. The commandments given to us are no longer burdensome. They are delightful because Christ has accomplished them on our behalf and Christ has freed us to be obedient. God becomes the joy of the Christ. We obey God, not simply because we have to, but because we want to. We have a faulty view of saving faith. Man does not simply come to Christ as Lord and Savior. It takes no work of the Spirit to want to get out of condemnation. But the soul seeking to be justified by the work of Christ on their behalf wants to be justified because they have seen the beauty of the Christ who justifies. It is their boast to say that Christ has saved them completely because the glories of Christ have become their greatest good. Any attempt to work up to God, as if He were some sort of ladder, is not pious. On the contrary, it is blasphemy. We are dead to sin and alive to God, reconciled by the finished, objective work of Christ on our behalf. We will pursue this great God who has saved us.

So does the freeness of God’s grace cause sin? In our sinfulness, it might. But rightly understood and applied, it will lead to a holiness of life that precedes from the heart. Our righteous deeds are merely “splendid sins.” There is enough sin in our best works to send us to hell forever. But in Christ, justifed, our good works are sweet to God, as gifts from a child to his father. They do not make the child a child but proves the living relationship between father and son. God hates our sin and will discipline us for it. But he will only discipline. There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ. We fight, not for justification, but out of it. We go back to the great gospel and then fight for holiness. We do so to enjoy God more and to commend the gospel to the outside world. We point to the sufficiency of Christ as we feebly walk in obedience. If we add works into our justification we will surely perish. If we see good works flowing necessarily out of justification, we will have confident, sin-hating joy even in the midst of a Romans 7 life. Christ died for the ungodly, so that they might walk in godliness. But part of godliness is seeing more and more of our sin and clinging more and more to Christ, our hope and assurance!

sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli deo gloria.

Advertisements