Written by R. Scott Clark |
Thursday, June 2, 2022
We have been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from the works of the law (Rom 3:24, 28; 4:1; 5:1; 8:1). Sanctification is being worked in us. It results in a change in us. We do good works because we have been freely justified and because we are being freely sanctified (Rom 7:4; Eph 2:10; 5:9; Col 1:10; Phil 1:11; 2:13; Gal 5:22; James 2:14; 3:13). We are being conformed to the image of Christ. Mortification (putting to death of the old man) and vivification (the making alive of the new man) is being worked in us by the gracious, gradual work of the Spirit.
For many evangelicals and for some ostensibly Reformed folk it has been fashionable for the last several years to teach that we are justified now by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide), based on Christ’s righteousness imputed, but that because salvation includes sanctification and sanctification entails works, we shall finally be saved, as they say, “through good works.” One prominent evangelical organization published the thesis: “You are not saved by faith alone. Be killing sin.” Thus, what this two-stage approach to salvation gives with the right hand (initial justification sola fide) it takes away with the left (final salvation through works).
Most of the Federal Visionists are explicit about their rejection of the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and about their rejection of imputation on the basis of justification. Some of them, however, cleverly affirm initial justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and one of them even affirms the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. Remember, however, for them, there is a second stage. Others, who style themselves opponents of antinomianism but who do not identify as Federal Visionists, also teach a two-stage doctrine of salvation and final salvation through works.
Make no mistake about it. This is an intentional revision of the Reformation doctrine of salvation. Their goal is that Christians should be more sanctified and produce more good works, but they are dissatisfied with the Reformation doctrine of justification, sanctification, and glorification by grace alone, through faith alone. They do not believe that good works are nothing but the fruit and evidence of justification and sanctification. They do not accept the Reformation distinction between law and gospel. They reject the notion that sanctification is, as Walter Marshal wrote, a “gospel mystery,” and that there is not a straight line to sanctification. They reject the notion that progressive sanctification is the fruit of justification and that good works are the fruit of progressive sanctification. For more on these various revisions and rejections of the Reformation doctrine of salvation see the resources below.
Justification and Salvation in Romans 5:9–10
Considering the proposed revisions let us consider briefly how Paul thinks about the nature of both justification and salvation and how he relates the two in Romans 5:9–10. Paul writes,
Since we have now been justified by his blood how much more shall we be saved from wrath through him? Because if, being enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, by how much more shall we be saved by his life? 1
The two-stage view depends 1) upon the notion that there is an initial justification and a final salvation; 2) that initial justification is through faith alone but final salvation, because it involves our sanctification and sanctification is by grace and cooperation with grace (i.e., by grace and works), is through works.
The first premise is manifestly contrary to the Pauline doctrine of justification and salvation in several places including this one. We have been saved (Eph 2:8) by grace alone, through faith alone. In this passage Paul is teaching us that the future aspect of our salvation, (i.e., the consummation of our salvation), is also by grace alone, through faith alone. Works are never instrumental in our justification, our sanctification, or our salvation taken as a whole.
It is true that salvation is or can be a comprehensive category. It is also true that the Westminster Divines were aware of this when they said justification “is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC, 33) and sanctification “he work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC, 35).