The below thoughts and ideas were under discussion on Renewal Podcast, May 26, 2021, hosted by Coalt Robinson, Jay Wipf and John Goodell. They graciously invited fellow pastor Rob Clay to join the discussion:
Numerous volumes have been written on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, as Coalt Robinson mentioned in the podcast. Quoting Luther, he said the doctrine of justification is that doctrine on which the church stands for falls. History is weighty on this topic, and we can learn much from reading those who have gone before. However, the Protestant position is not grounded upon the historical writings of the 16th nor 17th century theologians, but, like them, we must turn to the Scriptures for our sole authority on this crucial topic of justification.
Blood was also spilt over this doctrine, and many were imprisoned and lost their lives by taking a stand on justification by faith alone in Christ alone. This doctrinal position is reached by examining the clear teachings of Scripture on how one is justified, noting the instrument thru which Justification is received,
To claim that water baptism is a necessary element in one’s justification, is to erroneously read that back into these passages where they are obviously silent. The Scriptures clearly and repeatedly describe justification as a declaration by God of one’s right standing before God being received by faith alone. The basis or ground of one’s justification is the person and the work of Jesus Christ, His righteousness being credited to the sinner by faith alone.
Let’s define justification, so we understand what the term means, and then we will look at passages that clearly and unequivocally affirm justification by faith alone.
Justification Defined ~
Justification is the legal and forensic declarative act by God that sinners have a righteous standing or status before God on the basis of the righteousness of Christ (from His active and passive obedience) being imputed to them by faith alone.
Justification is punctiliar in nature, occurring at one definite point in time and not a progressive nor transformative process throughout one’s life.
Justification Received ~
Plentiful Scriptures highlight and draw attention to justification through faith alone, but let us focus on a few in the book of Romans. Paul belabors the point through Romans that neither Jew nor Gentile have righteousness according to their deeds. All are bankrupt of righteousness before God and find themselves, knowingly or unknowingly, guilty and condemned before God (Romans 3:19,23). According to verse 19, the whole world is under the law and held accountable to God (both Jew and Gentile in context).
The good news or the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) This seems to be Paul’s main point to the saints in Rome, that is, the righteousness of God in the gospel brings salvation to all who believe. Paul does not add any additional elements or actions on behalf of those saved in order to secure their justification before God other than faith.
This below passage in Romans 3:21-30 is lengthy, but consider the highlighted portions and how they speak exclusively to faith as being the instrument through which one is justified before God.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one-who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.”
No less than five times this passage draws attention to justification by faith alone. No works of any kind, whether keeping the Mosaic Law nor water baptism nor any other best efforts one may try to do contribute to one’s justification.
The quintessential example of justification by faith alone and not according to any works is the patriarch Abraham. In Romans 4:1-5 Paul argues that Abraham cannot boast of any works before God, but by stark contrast in verse three quotes Genesis 15:6 saying, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Here is the context of Romans 4:1-5
“What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
God justifies those who believe in Christ with no additional requirements for justification. This is clearly stated in Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
The reason this passage carries so much vital weight and power over the description of justification centers on the fact that Abraham lived before the giving of the Mosaic Law and Abraham believed before he was circumcised. (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:10-16) Paul expressly says that is why it depends on faith because the promise depends on faith and not our works.
In the most clear terms Paul speaks of justification by faith alone in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It seems an argument from silence to say that if Paul desired people to know that one’s justification depended upon water baptism, he would have clarified it and crossed his T’s and dotted his proverbial I’s, theologically and soteriologically speaking.
However, in 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul divorces the gospel from water baptism by saying, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” To add anything to the gospel, whether it be water baptism or circumcision or church attendance is to have another gospel, which Paul anathematizes or condemns in Galatians 1:8-9. Perplexed by the Galatians departing from the gospel Paul had preached, he reminds them of justification in Galatians 2:16 “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
These clear passages on justification by faith alone set the stage for understanding and exploring the other Scriptures that speak to water baptism.
Beautifully, Paul speaks of water baptism as picturing outwardly what occurs supernaturally through regeneration by the Holy Spirit and faith in Christ in Romans 6:1-14.
Ephesians 1:13-14 13 “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” In this passage, Paul encourages the saints in Ephesus that upon hearing the gospel, they believed in Christ and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. Echoing Galatians 3:1-5, they had received the Spirit, not by works, but by faith thru hearing of the gospel. Both passages address receiving the Holy Spirit by believing in the gospel and not a later event of water baptism.
Maybe another time on RenewalCast specific verses can be exposited, explored and compared to other Biblical texts, which seems so needed to clear the fog of water baptism and justification.
Time and space does not allow for all the forceful passages of Scripture to be brought to bear upon this topic of justification by faith alone. The promise of salvation is to those who hear the gospel message and believe in Jesus Christ by faith alone.
Further Scriptures to explore:
16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:21
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;
31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
1 John 5:13
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. - Romans 10:9-10
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
“8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—“
Robby Clay has been serving Christ in Texas planting a church. When there’s free time, his five kiddos keep him enthralled with local exploration, hiking and biking and an occasional chess game.