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Justification by Faith

Justification is a legal act; justification by faith is a matter of life. It would appear that the line between theology and life is a blurred one.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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Justification is a legal act; justification by faith is a matter of life. It would appear that the line between theology and life is a blurred one. To say so, however, would be a serious error: in Scripture no such line exists. Theology, the Word of God, is always a matter of life and death because it is the living God, Who is the absolute Lord and total Creator of all things Who speaks the Word.

Abstractionism has behind it a Hellenic faith. It seeks to separate from life the idea, the form or pattern, which has been imposed on or mingled with an alien matter. But the Bible does not give us form and matter in conjunction, but only God's creation, a unity.

When the abstractionist seeks truth, he "rises above" one aspect of the world to seek another and "truer" one. The Manichaean deserts matter for spirit. The mystic rises above particularity and individuality to seek the oneness of being. The neoplatonist churchman forsakes law and material things for grace and spirituality, and so on. With agnostics and atheists, abstractionism means that a barren intellectualism (or pseudo-intellectualism) leads towards a denigration of life and practicality.

The Word and the works of God know no such division. In God's creation, law, love, life, grace, and all things else are inseparable. The Psalmist says, "Ye that love the LORD, hate evil" (Ps. 97:10). Love without a hatred of that which opposes our faith and is its enemy is impossible; we cannot abstract love from law, life, judgment, and grace. Abstractionism presupposes a Hellenic worldview in which mind (or form) and matter are two alien substances in temporal and temporary confusion; it then requires that the true thinker and the moral man separate the two. For Scripture, the division is not between mind and matter; no such line exists. It is between faith in the Lord and faith in man. It is a moral, not a metaphysical, division. As a result, when we speak of justification, we must recognize that this legal act by the sovereign God has moral and personal consequences for man. Where there is no justification, there is condemnation. When the living God Who made every atom of man's being declares a man to be legally justified, then every atom of that man's being is alive with this freedom from sin and death and the penalties thereof. Then man's conscience and being reflect, not condemnation, but justification. Then, too, the calling of and the responsibilities under God previously denied are now assumed and discharged in terms of a growing sanctification.

In any court of law, to be transferred from legal guilt to legal righteousness is a tremendous fact of life. It is totally so in God's supreme court of law and life. Justification by faith is thus a fact of life because it is an act of God's absolute court of law.

Certainly there is no abstractionism when we first encounter the great declaration, "The just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). Judea in Habakkuk's day was marked by waywardness and covenant-breaking. The overwhelming evil of the Chaldeans (neo-Babylonians) threatened Judea also. God declares the coming judgment but makes clear that the just man shall live by his faith in the midst of judgment. Who are the just, the tsaddiq? The verb is tsadak, to make righteous, to acquit. Both the noun and the verb are primarily legal or forensic rather than moral or psychological in their connotation. The just stand before God in God's grace and by His righteousness; they are an elect covenant people. (The ancient world knew of no standing before a sovereign or lord apart from his electing choice. There is a reference to this fact in Esther 4:11; 5:2. Thus, when the Bible speaks of anyone standing before God, or favored by His presence, it is always a case of sovereign election.)

Habakkuk, as a man of the elect people, is told of the coming judgment on Judea. His reaction is one of grief and consternation, but not surprise. God answers him by declaring that the elect man does not stand before God in his own righteousness, nor his own wisdom. The covenant man will therefore live by his faith that the God of all grace, justice, and mercy is ordering all things in terms of His all-wise and all-holy counsel. The just thus stand before God in God's electing grace, legally made just by His mercy, and they stand in history in the faith that He Who made them legally just when they were lawless, and sought to be their own gods, is also just and holy in all His ways. He will also justify time and history (Rom. 8:28).

There is an oblique reference to Hab. 2:4 perhaps in John 3:36; certainly Romans 1:17 repeats it, and Romans 2:1-4:25 expound it. In Romans 1:16-17, Paul declares:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

Paul's gospel or good news is "the power of God unto salvation." The omnipotence of God, His absolute power, is operative in His revelation of His righteousness. His law stands; His court requires atonement, and Christ renders it for the elect people. God's legal declaration of justification, however, is never abstracted from the life of man and the workings of God the Spirit. The legal act is distinct but never separable from the moral fact of regeneration and faith. Historically, this salvation was to the Jew first, and then to the Greek Gentiles, but it is "to every one that believeth," without regard to race, class, or status. It is the revelation "from faith to faith," i.e., by faith to every person everywhere who receives the gift of faith. The world of Paul's day was one dominated by an anti-God mentality, and by a homosexual mentality (Rom. 1:18-31). It took faith to live in that world in the confidence that God's absolute government was not only in control, but increasing its sway (Isa. 9:6-7; Rom. 8:28). This, however, was exactly what they were to do, to believe that the Lord had redeemed them and justified them, and that the Lord would likewise redeem both time and history and triumph over all things. Paul concludes Romans by reminding believers that in due time God shall bruise or crush Satan under their feet (Rom. 16:20; Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5; Rev. 11:15; 19:16). The final consummation results in a glorious triumph and a renewed creation:

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death. (Rev. 21:3-8)

In the fullness of the new creation, the legal fact still stands as the cornerstone: the elect stand justified by God's sovereign grace, and all of history and creation stand redeemed by His eternal counsel and decree. But now by the working of God's providence, Christ's royal power, and the Spirit's sanctifying operations, the moral fact is by God's grace in harmony with the legal fact. Sanctification in man is perfected, and all of creation is "Holiness unto the LORD" (Zech. 14:20-21).

The first two paragraphs of the Westminster Confession, "Of Justification," state:

Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth (Rom. 8:30; Rom. 3:24): not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them (Rom. 4:5-8; II Cor. 5:19, 21; Tit. 3:5, 7; Eph. 1:17; Jer. 23:6; Rom. 3:22, 24, 25, 27; I Cor. 1:30, 31; Rom. 5:17-19), they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God (Phil. 3:9; Eph. 2:8; Acts 13:38-39).

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification (John 1:12; Rom. 3:38; Rom. 5:1); yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love (James 2:17, 22, 26; Gal. 5:6).

Faith without works is dead, and there is no justification where all other saving graces are absent. This means that the justified, who are those legally declared righteous before God, now become God's instruments of righteousness on earth. The justified are the elect people of law and grace, of love and mercy, of faith and works, and they are the people of God's Kingdom who extend God's dominion into every area of life and thought. They dwell in the tents of Shem (Gen. 9:26-27), in the tabernacle of the Lord Christ, and they are enlarged by the Lord, because they serve Him in all their being (Rev. 22:3).


R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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