Chapter 1: Let’s Get
Chapter 2: The Meaning
Chapter 4: The Righteousness
Chapter 5: Justifying
Faith, Simple or Not?
Chapter 6: Essential
Ingredients of Justifying Faith
Chapter 8: The Roman
Catholic Doctrine of justification
Chapter 9: Shadow Eaters:
A Dark Side in the Reformed Faith
Chapter 10: Quit Calling
Yourself a Sinner
A: Excerpts: International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Let’s Get Emotional
The Apostle Paul was no icy theologian, expounding
from nosebleed heights about judicial points. Though justification is a decree,
not a feeling, it should have a visceral impact. First, comes the knowledge
we are justified, then enjoyment of the fact.
Therefore, since we
have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ, Rom.5:1.
How fitting he mentions peace first. The war
is over. God is no longer angry. A sense of safety results, knowing God will
never change his verdict of not guilty.
Gone is performance-based hope. Gone is conduct-based
One way to enjoy our justification is to dwell
on its permanence. This is our “state of grace.” Paul said,
...we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we
now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Rom.5:2.
justified, we stand in grace...now, (present continuous tense.)
The state of grace for a justified believer never changes. This is true of
weak and new believers, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Rom.14:4.
No wonder Martin Luther said justification
is the article on which the church stands or falls. 
While other key doctrines illuminate grace
in the gospel, justification by faith alone IS the gospel. This justifies,
(excuse the pun), why we devote an entire manual to justification.
Justification is high on the list of truths
worth living and dying for. After all, it answers the question, “How can sinners
be reconciled to a holy God and avoid his judgment?”
Justification by faith was the battle cry of the Reformation. Rightly so. The reformers wanted people to be saved, including
themselves. What a shock it must have been to discover that for centuries Rome
had deceived millions into believing a message of salvation that never saved
The reformers’ zeal and unwavering convictions
were well justified. To our present age, known for its tolerance of everything
including sin, they may seem to have overreacted. Not so. A predecessor modeled
their passion: The Apostle Paul.
Paul was usually congenial. His letters contain
warm expressions of affection. From his parental tenderness toward the Thessalonians,
to his willingness to live or die with the wayward Corinthians, we see Paul’s
genuine sensitivity. Yet we hear him calling down anathemas thick and fast,
on those who are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal.1:7).
When Paul uses the term “gospel” in Romans
and Galatians, he means justification by faith. He declared any other description
of the gospel as really no gospel at all (Gal.1:7).
Any alteration of his teaching was not a mere difference in perspective. It
For Paul, the term justified is virtually
synonymous with saved.
Since we have now been justified by his blood,
how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! Rom.5:9
For it is with your heart that you believe
and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Rom.10:10
We notice Paul's flexibility on minor issues
such as in Romans 14. Yet we detect no yielding when it comes to defining the
In Romans, he called the gospel, the power
of God for salvation (Rom.1:16). What happens
when the message is perverted? Any alteration is fatal is because it loses
its power to save. Sproul asks rhetorically,...
Does saving faith require a trust in the righteousness
of Christ alone as the grounds of our Justification? Or may a person have a
different view of the gospel and still be a Christian? 
A distorted gospel strikes at the heart of
the righteousness of Christ himself, giving man glory due to God alone. It
undermines his own security. He destroys the very
ground which he thought was solid.
This is what Rome has done to millions. Time
has not improved Rome’s perversion of justification, despite Vatican II or
the Ecumenical movement. There is as much need for exposing it today as ever.
Even among Evangelicals, misunderstandings
occur about justification. These rarely jeopardize the gospel itself, though
they always affect one’s view of God, one’s self, and principles of Christian
In this study, therefore, we will explore the
two key elements of justification: Forgiveness of sin and the imputation of
the righteousness of Christ. Some questions we will consider:
what does the term “justify” mean?
is the difference between saving faith and any other kind?
is meant by the righteousness of Christ? Is there a spiritual essence infused
into our soul?
are the objective and subjective benefits?
Afterwards, we will compare the biblical teaching
on justification to Catholicism. Doing this is not meant to be unkind. It is
intended show the devastating consequences of errors involving this doctrine.
To define these errors is not theological hairsplitting.
Like the doors of history, theology also turns on small hinges. Just as little
events can generate huge impact over time, so minor errors can produce heresies.
Calvin calls this doctrine the "principal
ground" on which the Christian stands:
The doctrine of justification...is the principal ground on
which religion must be supported, so it requires greater care and attention.
For unless you understand first of all what your position is before God...you
have no foundation on which your salvation can laid, or on which piety towards
God can be reared. 
A Christian friend recently lamented, “Why
can’t we just stay simple? Why do we have to complicate everything?” The answer
could well be stated: “We are not the ones complicating the issue.” Others
have taken the simple gospel and complicated it with unbiblical additions.
Careful theologians know how to detect the errors that obscure the simple gospel.
Nevertheless, this can be a complex task.
Let’s clear up a potential misunderstanding.
When we say justification by faith alone is the gospel, we do not mean everyone
must understand the doctrine of justification to be saved. Most evangelistic
preaching in the Book of Acts expresses justification as forgiveness of sins
through Christ alone.
That, in fact, is the doctrine of justification
in its simplest form. We are preaching justification by faith when we say,
“If you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God will forgive you all your sins
and give you eternal life.” Paul used the term justify when preaching
to people who understood the concept, such as in the synagogue in Antioch.
Through this study we will see why Paul was
passionate enough to write two large Epistles on justification: Romans and
Galatians. We also will discover why the reformers were willing to be burned
at the stake for it. We will be challenged to preach the gospel with greater
conviction, knowing that the outcome is inevitably, ...whom he justified,
he also glorified (Romans 8:30).
Justification by faith alone deserves special
focus because it defines the gospel. Distortions of the gospel throughout history
have made it necessary to distinguish the true gospel from false ones.
From this chapter we learn…
by faith alone is the biblical gospel.
movements have distorted it into something unrecognizable as the gospel of
must be uncompromising on this doctrine precisely because it is the gospel.
The Apostle Paul and the reformers exemplified unwavering commitment to this
Study Questions for Chapter 1
why the doctrine of justification by faith merits thorough analysis.
why Paul, in Galatians Chapter One, felt it appropriate to pronounce anathemas
on those who disagreed with the correct definition of the gospel.
Chapter 2: The Meaning
Justification is a legal declaration by God
that a person is righteous compared with his Law. The grounds for this is the perfect righteousness of Christ, imputed
by faith alone, in Christ alone.
This definition contains key words: Justify,
impute, righteousness and faith. By showing how the Bible uses these, we
will prove the above definition to be the only correct one. We will also show
how errors in defining them lead to a corresponding distortion of the gospel.
The first word we will analyze is justify. Before
this, we will do a brief review of the elements and principles already studied
in Unlocking Grace. (The student should have read the chapter on justification
in Unlocking Grace. If not, he must do so now.)
Elements of justification
Romans Chapter 4 portrays the two key elements
involved with justification:
of sins, (Rom.4:7).
of the righteousness of Christ, (Rom.4:4).
Packer clarifies these two elements:
Justification has two sides.
On the one hand, it means the pardon, remission, and non-imputation of
all sins, reconciliation to God, and the end of his enmity and wrath (Acts
13:39; Rom.4:6-7; 2Cor.5:19; Rom.5:9). On the
other hand, it means the bestowal of a righteous man’s status and a title
to all the blessings promised to the just: a thought which Paul amplifies
by linking justification with the adoption of believers as God’s sons and
heirs (Rom.8:14; Ga.4:4). 
The principles behind justification
is based on the Covenant of Abraham and is inseparable from it (Gal.3:8;29).
requires the righteousness of the law to be fulfilled in the believer (Rom.8:4).
is our substitute before the law of God (Gal.4:4-5).
righteousness Christ earned under the law is imputed to the believer through
is permanent (Rom.8:30).
Word study: “To justify”
In teaching the doctrines of grace, I have
noticed many Christians define the word justification as, “to be made righteous.”
Incorrect. It means, “to declare righteous,”
or, ”be vindicated.”
In a theology class, a student remarked, “That
seems like hairsplitting. There isn’t really much difference.”
Wrong again. It makes the difference between
Catholic and Protestant. It also distinguishes between Reformed and Arminian.
Those are pretty big hairs to split.
The Greek verb for “justify” is dikaioo. It
is associated with the nouns for righteousness or justice (dikaiosyne) and
a just person (dikaios). The word “righteousness” and “justice” are
the same in New Testament Greek.
In biblical studies, a word takes its meaning
from the context or its habitual usage throughout the Bible. As a rule, the
context takes priority. If there is doubt about the context, we proceed to
the habitual usage to determine the meaning in a specific verse. That is how
we go about word studies in doctrinal research.
By the time we finish this word study on dikaioo, we
will see why we use the phrase “declare righteous” in the definition
above, rather than “make righteous.”
The verb dikaioo has a rich history
in the Bible. Paul used it 27 times. It occurs 49 times in the Septuagint.  In the following examples, we will highlight
those words that translate the verb dikaioo:
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, 1Tim.3:16
The text refers to Christ. The incarnation
was his appearing in a body. Being vindicated by the Spirit probably
refers to his resurrection. In any case, the Spirit did not make Christ
righteous. He was righteous already because he is God incarnate. The Spirit’s
testimony of Christ via his resurrection and miracles, justified or vindicated that
Jesus was who he claimed to be.
For by your words you will be acquitted, and
by your words you will be condemned. Matt.12:37
Here, dikaioo is contrasted with condemnation,
Not at all! Let God be true, and every man
a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you
speak and prevail when you judge.” Rom.3:4.
The verse refutes the accusation that God did
not fulfill his promises. Paul clarifies that man violated the conditions God
laid down, thus forfeiting the benefits. God is not “made righteous” by his
own words. He is righteous already. The corruption of man “proves” his judgments
All the people, even the tax collectors, when they
heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, Luke 7:29.
The King James renders it as “justified God.”
The people did not make God righteous. They only acknowledged that God IS righteous
by the actions of Christ.
But wisdom is proved right by
all her children. Luke 7:35.
Wisdom is not made righteous, but shown to
be so by its results.
...he did it to demonstrate
his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who
justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Rom.3:26.
Here the noun form of dikaioo is used, dikaios,
a righteous or just person, or righteous one.  The word “he” refers to God who accomplished
redemption in a righteous manner. Nothing God did made him righteous.
Some texts from the Septuagint:
When men have a dispute,
they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the
innocent and condemning the guilty. Deut.25:1.
Have nothing to do
with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death,
for I will not acquit the guilty. Ex.23:7.
innocent not guilty, and so establish his innocence. 1Kings
From these verses, we see why lexicons define dikaioo as:
Louw&Nida: the act of clearing someone
of transgression — ‘to acquit, to set free, to remove guilt, acquittal.’ 
Thayer: To declare guiltless one accused; to declare, pronounce,
one to be just, righteous. 
Gingrich: justify, vindicate, treat as
just; to be acquitted, be pronounced and treated as righteous. 
United Bible Societies New Testament, Lexicon: put
into a right relation; acquit, declare and treat as righteous; 
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology summarizes dikaioo: It
is thus a forensic term, denoting a judicial act of administering the law--in
this case, by declaring a verdict of acquittal, and so excluding all possibility
of condemnation. Justification thus settles the legal status of the person
The evidence shows justification is a “legal
declaration” by God. If this is so, then by definition, justification has everything
to do with law. The only law it could refer to is God’s moral law in the Old
Testament, as summarized in the Ten Commandments.
Picture God declaring, “You have not broken
the Ten Commandments.” In the next chapter, we will explore how God could say
such a thing without contradicting his holy standard or telling a lie.
By itself, justification has nothing to do
with spiritual experiences. Important experiences accompany it, like adoption
as his children and imparting of the Holy Spirit, with the joy, peace and power
he brings. Justification however, deals with our legal status before God’s
law without which none of the other spiritual experiences would be possible.
Legal jargon may seem cold. For Paul, justification
was a stirring issue because it involves forgiveness of sins.
Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered. (8)Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never
count against him. Rom.4:7
Since sin is the transgression of the law
(1Jn.3:4), then it is clear why a legal declaration from
God is essential to reconcile us with him.
...we also rejoice in God
through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
From the scriptural evidence, we see “justify”
as a forensic (legal) term with the idea of acquittal or pronouncement of innocence.
This involves forgiveness of sins through which we are reconciled to God.
From this chapter we learn...
word “justify,” in justification, means “declare righteous,
acquit, pronounce innocent.”
does not mean, “make righteous.”
is a forensic issue, not an experiential one.
has to do with the forgiveness of our sins.
Study Questions for Chapter 2
are the two elements of justification?
are the five general principles involved in the doctrine of justification?
Express them in your own words.
another verse, other than those in the Chapter, to support “justify” as a forensic
term. Explain thoroughly.
why justification is not an ‘experiential’ issue in
and of itself.
on the Westminster Confession:
three things are NOT imputed to the believer, according to Article 1?
does Article 2 define the word “faith”?
two things did Christ do to satisfy the justice of the Father, according to
two attributes of God are glorified in the justification of sinners, according
to Article 3?
did God decree to justify, according to Article 4?
to Article 5, name one thing that can happen to those who are justified, and
one thing that cannot happen.
the relationship of believers under the Old Testament to justification according
to Article 6.
Chapter 3: Imputation
“Is faith the basis of our salvation?” In
my experience, many Christians answer, “yes.”
Theology students are often astonished to hear
that faith is not the basis of our salvation. Saying this sounds heretical
until we explain the basis is the righteousness of Christ. Faith is simply
the means by which this righteousness is accredited to our account.
To assume faith is the grounds
of our acceptance with God is like saying a cement truck is the foundation
of our house because the truck brought the cement. This is not to downplay
faith. Without it, we cannot be justified. Our intent is to underscore the
importance of imputation.
The centrality of imputation
Imputation is the central concept in Justification.
Ignoring imputation leads to confusion about our status before God. Though
a Christian possesses the benefits of justification, he may fail to enjoy them
all if he is unaware they exist.
Romans Chapter 4 is devoted to imputation.
It forms the logical bridge between the depravity of man, explained in Romans
3, and reconciliation with God in Romans 5.
A poor grasp of imputation leads to widespread
heresies. Catholics, some Arminians and certain extreme Charismatic groups
hold to errors on imputation. Some of these are benign, while others open the
door to damaging heresies. We will deal with these errors in later chapters.
Imputation shuts the door on legalism. The
moment we grasp the essence of imputation we can easily detect legalism. Works-righteousness
mentality has a harder time surviving. The book of Galatians comes alive for
us like never before.
Imputation allows us to grow with confidence.
Calvin expressed it this way:
For unless you first of all grasp what our relationship to
God is, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a
foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build
piety toward God. 
What is imputation?
Imputation involves two aspects: Negatively,
not counting our sins against us. Positively, counting the righteousness of
Christ to us as ours.
It does not mean to remove anything.
Nor does it mean to infuse or inject something. The idea of infusion is foreign
to the meaning of the Greek word involved, logizomai. Other Greek words
exist for those ideas. 
The theological term imputation is derived
from the King James usage in Romans 4, which translates the Greek verb logizomai and
the Hebrew, hashab  Modern translations use words like credit
to, reckon or account.  Though such terms are adequate, the original
Greek term requires careful defining so we can see later what it does not mean.’
The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees
For I tell you that
unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers
of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matt.5:20.
Someone asked me, “Does your righteousness
exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees?” I replied, “Yes it
does...and not by a little bit either. In fact, it is light-years above theirs,
a righteousness extending to infinity.”
He looked askance and said, “Well, that sure
sounds arrogant!” I answered, “It would be if it were really my own righteousness.
I borrowed it, though, from someone else, Jesus. I own no other righteousness
Usage in Greek
Note these lexicons on logizomai:
United Bible Societies Greek New Testament & Lexicon: count,
reckon, calculate, take into account; credit, place to one’s account; 
Louw&Nida: to keep records of commercial
accounts, involving both debits and credits — ‘to put into one’s account,
to charge one’s account, to regard as an account.’ [Greek: Rom.4:4-”to
de ergazomeno ho misthos ou logizetai kata charin alla kata opheilema”]- “to
a person who has worked, the wage is not regarded (or ‘not credited to his
account’) as a gift but as a debt to be paid’ (or ‘a debt owed to him’)” 
Thayer’s Lexicon: to take into account;
to pass to one’s account; impute. 
Let’s take a look at a couple of biblical usages
not directly related to justification: [Bold letters indicate logizomai.]
If he has done you
any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. Philemon
The Septuagint uses it as well:
shall be considered guilty of bloodshed; [Literally, have guilt
meat of the fellowship offering is eaten on the third day, it will not
be accepted. It will not be credited to the one who offered it,
for it is impure; the person who eats any of it will be held responsible.
translates as suppose, consider, think, in contexts having nothing to do with debt or guilt.
The Evangelical Dictionary summarizes:
‘to charge to one’s account’...is
an adequate rendering of the Greek term logizomai. This forensic notion of
imputation has its partial roots in the commercial and legal language of
the Greco-Roman world; one who has something imputed to him is accountable
under the law. 
We see that logizomai is another legal
term like “justify.” It refers to crediting something to an account. We are
the debtors to God and that “something” is the righteousness of Christ.
When an accountant credits funds to your bank
account, he does not literally infuse money into a box belonging to you. It
is ‘on the books.’ Likewise, the righteousness of Christ is not a thing or substance injected
into us. Imputation is a legal transaction only, not an experiential one.
A possible misunderstanding
Does this mean our souls are left empty when
we are justified? By no means! The Holy Spirit enters our heart. He confers
all the benefits of our salvation.
God has poured out his love into our hearts by the
Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Rom.5:5.
What are these benefits? The context of Romans
5 tells us a few: Reconciliation with God, peace, joy and the experience of
the Father’s love. Justification, with its key concept of imputation, gives
him the grounds for doing all this for us without contradicting his holiness.
When we are saved, dramatic changes take place.
We experience a new nature, the power of the Spirit and the very real sense
of being clean for the first time.
Imputation, however, does not refer to any
of these experiences or to any inward change in and of itself. It merely makes
it “legal” for God to do them for us. We have a new legal status before God
as righteous people.
A common saying among Reformed Bible teachers
to show the difference between legal and experiential righteousness is this: Justification
is what God does for us. Sanctification is what God does in us.
Justification makes it perfectly logically
for God to do all sorts of nice things to and for us. After all, he is doing
them for people he now considers righteous.
This is why Hodge, in his excellent Systematic
Imputation never changes the inward subjective state of the
person to whom the imputation is made. When you impute theft to a man you
do not make him a thief. When you impute goodness to a man, you do not make
him good. So when righteousness is imputed to the believer, he does not thereby
become subjectively righteousness. 
Notice Hodge inserts the word “subjectively.”
He is not denying the reality of subjective experiences in the believer. Hodge
simply attributes the subjective work of sanctification to the Holy Spirit’s
indwelling, not to imputation. The Spirit makes our legal righteousness
in justification an experiential reality.
The Bible makes quite as prominent what Christ does for us,
[in justification] as what He does in us [In our union with Christ].... Protestants
do not depreciate the value and necessity of the new life derived from Christ,
because, in obedience to the Scriptures, they insist so strenuously upon
the satisfaction which He has rendered by his perfect righteousness
to the justice of God. Without the latter, the former is impossible. 
Sometimes writers use the word “commutation,”
in discussing imputation. This obscure word has the idea of an exchange between
two people of one thing for another. (Not in the sense of bartering.) In
this sense, our sins were imputed to Christ and his righteousness was imputed
to us. An exchange took place between him and us.
The Puritan writer John Owen, commenting on
Romans 4:6, expresses it as,
There is in the Scripture represented unto us a commutation
between Christ and believers, as unto sin and righteousness; that is, in
the imputation of their sins unto him, and of his righteousness unto them.
In the improvement and application hereof unto our own souls, no small part
of the life and exercise of faith does consist. 
At this point, Owen continues his explanation
using the idea of the scapegoat. In Lev.16:21-22, the priest “imputed” the sins of the people to the
goat and sent him off into the wilderness. Owen interprets this as a foretype
of the imputation of our sins to Christ.
While the sacrifice of Christ is illustrated
in the Old Testament via animals, Paul makes it explicit in Romans 3. Here
we see the inseparable connection between justification and the sacrifice of
Christ...a good example of why we should view biblical theology as an inseparable
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement,...(26) He did this...so as to be just and the one who justifies
those who have faith in Jesus. Rom.3:25.
The Adam-Christ parallel: Why imputation
Imputation of the righteousness of Christ is
directly connected to the doctrine of Original Sin. In Romans 5, Paul draws
a parallel between Adam and Christ.
For if, by the trespass of the one man, [Adam] death
reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s
abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life
through the one man, Jesus Christ. Rom.5:17.
Owen explains this parallel,
...as Adam’s actual sin is imputed
unto us unto condemnation, so is the obedience of Christ imputed unto us
to the justification of life. 
Just as the sin of Adam, and all its consequences,
was imputed to Adam’s descendants, so the righteousness of Christ is imputed
to believers...and all its consequences. While it is true we are not personally
responsible for Adam’s transgression, neither do we merit the righteousness
This illustrates the importance of system in
our theology. A denial of Original Sin is a denial of imputation. After all,
if it is impossible for Adam’s sin to be attributed to us, neither can Christ’s
righteousness be accounted to us.
...that God was reconciling
the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. [Word in bold indicates
Reconciliation with God is the entire point
of imputation. Through reconciliation, God can stand on the same ground with
a sinner contradicting his own holiness. The common ground is the righteousness
Imputation refers to God’s dual act of not
counting our sins against us and crediting to us the righteousness of Christ.
As a forensic act, it does not mean the infusion or injection of anything.
Imputation provides the basis for reconciliation. In turn, this allows him
to bless us with the Holy Spirit and all the Spirit brings us.
From this chapter we learn...
is the not the grounds of our justification but the means by which the righteousness
of Christ is imputed.
good understanding of imputation helps us avoid serious doctrinal errors.
imputation also helps us detect and avoid legalism.
Greek term logizomai means credit to, reckon, attribute to the account of.
It does not carry the connotation of infusion, injection or a quality inherent
in the person.
argument Paul uses to show the rationality of imputation is the doctrine of
Original Sin expressed in Romans 5.
expresses mutual imputation. In this case, the imputing of ours sins to Christ
and his imputation of righteousness to us.
to God is the immediate consequence of the imputed righteousness of Christ.
It provides the common ground on which God and man meet.
Study Questions for Chapter 3
is the doctrine of imputation important?
2. What is the meaning of the Greek term, logizomai?
the connection between the doctrine of original sin and its relationship to
is the relationship between imputation and reconciliation with God?
Chapter 4: The Righteousness
Shortly after the death of Martin Luther in
1546, the teachings of Andrew Osiander, a professor at Königsberg troubled
the Reformation in Germany. 
Osiander held a view of justification radically
different from the forensic (legal) concept taught by Luther. For Osiander,
justification meant the infusion into the soul of a divine righteousness. This
was similar to a Catholic error against which Luther had struggled so valiantly.
Osiander therefore caused enormous controversy until his views were rejected
at the Formula of Concord in 1577. 
One of the reasons his views were rejected
should be obvious to the student by now. Osiander rejected imputation in favor
of an infusion of righteousness. For him, justification was more of an experience than
a legal declaration. 
Osiander believed correctly in the believer’s
mystical union with Christ. his wrongly based
it on an essence emanating from God himself. For him, divinity was infused,
as though God took a syringe, injecting righteousness from his person into
These views alarmed the reformers because they
lead to serious heresies. If we have the same essence as God, then it must
follow we are a part of God’s being. Perhaps we are gods ourselves. The distinction
between God and man becomes blurred.
Though Osiander did not carry his teachings
to such extremes, he could have logically. As a little leaven leavens the whole
lump so a little error leads to great heresies. Fortunately, the Formula of
Concord stopped him in his tracks.
Osiander’s errors forced scholars to refine
their thinking about the nature of the righteousness we receive. Among the
reformers, no one disputed the question of whose righteousness is involved
in justification. All agreed it is Christ’s righteousness alone by which God
accepts us. The question was, “What is meant by the righteousness
of Christ? Is it human righteousness, divine, or mixed? Is it mere absence
of sin or a positive quality of its own?”
Does it matter? Yes. It is one of the differences
between Catholic and Protestant, as well as between Evangelical and certain
cults. Our security of salvation is involved in these questions.
What does the Bible mean by “righteousness”?
The Bible always defines moralistic terms in
reference to God’s Law. These include righteousness, sin, wicked,
... sin is the transgression of the law. (KJV) 1Jn.3:4.
would not have known what sin was except through the law. (NIV) Rom.7:7.
devise wicked schemes are near, but they are far from your law. Ps.119:150.
Sin is breaking God’s law and righteousness
is conformity to it (1Jn.3:4). The Ten Commandments
summarize the moral law. While it is true that God has an attribute of his
being called “righteousness,” nevertheless,
he defines it by his Law. Any human righteousness therefore, must be
conformity to God’s Law.
Does God therefore require of us the righteousness
of the law?
For what the law was
powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by
sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
And so he condemned sin in sinful man, (4) in order that the righteous
requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according
to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Rom.8:3.
What was lacking in the law as a means of obtaining
righteousness? Nothing. The problem is our own weakness, not a deficiency in
Does God accept people who do not fulfill the
law’s requirements? Never. Perfect obedience is the only grounds on which God
has ever accepted anyone.
Two kinds of righteousness?
Some teach there are two kinds of righteousness,
that of the law and that of Christ. This is a mistake. The salvation Christ
gained for us did not consist in removing the righteousness of the law and
replacing it with his own. He fulfilled it, not replaced it. The written law
simply describes how God would act were he to become man. And that is exactly
what happened in Christ.
One asks, “Is the imputed righteousness of
Christ human, divine, or a mixture?” The answer is clear: The righteousness
imputed to us is a perfect human righteousness...the product of obedience
to the law by a perfect Man, Jesus Christ. It is not, therefore, a divine essence
infused into our souls.
For just as through the disobedience of the one man
[Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one
man [Christ] the many will be made righteous. Rom.5:19.
Notice the word man is repeated. It
was a human being who fell into sin (Adam) and a human being who paid the price
for it (Christ). Righteousness, then, is based on the obedience of Christ
as the perfect Man, representing humanity.
This evidence alone refutes Osiander. But there
is more. Theologians place the obedience of Christ into two categories: Active
obedience and passive obedience.
By active obedience, they mean the life
Christ led as a man under the law. By passive obedience they mean his
death on the cross. The Bible presents both of these aspects as fulfilling
the requirements of the law in his humanity.
Christ’s active obedience: his life under
Was it really necessary for Christ to fulfill
the requirements of the law during his life and not just by his death? Yes.
His role as mediator required it.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as
we are, yet without sin. Heb.4:15.
In refuting Osiander, Calvin aptly points out
how all of Christ’s acts as mediator, insofar as gaining our righteousness
under the law, were according to his human nature. 
Hence I gather that Christ was made righteousness
when “he took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil.2:7)...
Therefore he does this for us not according to his divine nature but in accordance
with the dispensation enjoined upon him. 
The Apostle Paul exclaims,
For there is one God
and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 1Tim.2:5.
Notice how Paul adds the clause, the man Christ
Jesus when it comes to his mediatorial role.
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under law, (5) to redeem those under law, that we might
receive the full rights of sons. Gal.4:4
Paul reveals another reason for Christ to fulfill
the law’s requirements by living under it. Those he came to redeem were living
under it also. It is fitting that their representative should live under the
same conditions, succeeding where they failed.
By emphasizing, “born of a woman,” Paul
focuses on the humanity of Christ in his work of obtaining our salvation.
himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human
likeness. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! Phil.1:7.
At his baptism, Christ acknowledges his relationship
to the law and its requirements:
proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness. Mt.3:15.
Fulfilling righteousness means to satisfy the
demands of the law. A form of baptism was necessary at the inauguration of
a priest. Jesus was fulfilling this requirement (Numbers 8:7).
Matthew Henry agrees Jesus did this,
...to own every divine institution,
and to show his readiness to comply with all God’s righteous precepts...
Thus Christ filled up the righteousness of the ceremonial law, which consisted
of various washings... 
Calvin likewise points out that Christ did
not have to earn righteousness for himself because he was already righteous.
If it were his own divine righteousness he came to bring to us, neither his
life nor his death under the law would have been necessary. 
Berkhof gives another reason why Christ’s active
obedience was crucial. If the righteousness imputed to us were forgiveness
of sins alone, through the cross, this would have left man in the same position
as Adam before the fall...innocent but without a positive attribute of real
Christ’s passive obedience: The cross
Wherever the Bible talks about the sacrifice
of Christ, it is his body under consideration...his humanity, not his deity.
The cross and the law
According to Colossians, Christ dealt with
our condemnation under the law by his body on the cross.
Once you were
alienated from God...22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical
This reconciliation took place because a barrier
was removed. That barrier was the law.
the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood
opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. Col.2:14
Peter expresses the idea as,
He himself bore our
sins in his body on the tree,... 1Pet.2:24.
The reconciliation of Jew and Gentile
Paul declares the reconciliation of Jew and
Gentile took place at the cross, in Christ’s body.
For he himself is
our peace... (15) by abolishing in his flesh the
law with its commandments and regulations... (16) and in
this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross... Eph.2:14.
The veil of the temple
The veil of the temple represented the barrier
separating God and man. The writer of Hebrews explains this veil represented
the flesh of Christ through which we enter into fellowship with God.
brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, (20)
By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the
veil, that is to say, his flesh... Heb.10:19.
The Lord’s Supper
The communion service is a memorial of the
bodily nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Calvin expresses this point,
would seal the righteousness and salvation that he has brought us, he sets
forth a sure pledge of it in his own flesh. Now he calls himself “the
bread of Life (Jn.6:48), but, in explaining how, he adds that “his flesh is truly
meat, and his blood truly drink” (Jn.6:55). This method of teaching is
perceived in the sacraments; even though they direct our faith to the whole
Christ and not to a half-Christ, they teach that the matter both of righteousness
and of salvation resides in his flesh... Institutes,
Book III, Ch.XI.
What role did Christ’s deity play in obtaining
righteousness for us?
After Osiander, another teacher by the name
Stancarus swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme.  Stancarus claimed that the divine side of Christ
played no role whatsoever in redemption. Supposedly, Christ suppressed his
divine nature to focus entirely on the human task of earning righteousness
Lutheran churches, at the Formula of Concord,
rejected this view, as did all Reformed councils since.  The Westminster Confession says correctly
that Christ acts according to both of his natures in all he does, not necessarily
in the same way.
Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according
to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; Chapter
8, Article 7.
Are we contradicting ourselves? No.
Christ is our high priest according to both
his natures. The Book of Hebrews reveals his sacrifice earned him the right
to be the mediator of his people, interceding for them before God and applying
the benefits he gained for us. Only deity, with the attributes of eternity
and omnipotence, could fulfill the function of applying his righteousness to
us. Moreover, it is precisely because of his deity that his righteousness is
of infinite value. 
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who
through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our
consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living
God! (15 ) For this reason Christ is the mediator
of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal
We can say without contradiction that Christ
is our righteousness according to both his humanity and his deity, yet without
infusing into us a righteousness as a divine essence.
The scriptures clearly define the nature of
the righteousness imputed to us through faith in Christ. It is a perfect human righteousness,
earned for us by Christ through his life and through his death as our representative.
This means no divine essence is infused into us, nor is there any change in our essence as humans. We are not deified
in any sense by the righteousness of Christ, nor exalted above what God originally
made us to be as human beings.
Christ’s life and death under the law earned
him the right to mediate as our High Priest. In this role, he acts according to
both natures, God and man.
From this chapter we learn...
righteousness Christ imputed to us is that which he earned under the law, both
by his life and by his death, as representative man.
righteousness is not a divine essence infused into us.
the righteousness imputed to us is not an infused divine essence, nevertheless
Christ is our righteousness according to both natures.
as our mediator and High Priest, acts according to both natures and is himself
Study Questions for Chapter 4
was the error of Osiander?
does the Bible define the term righteousness?
were the two kinds of obedience of Christ?
was it necessary for Christ to fulfill the law by living under it and not merely
dying under it? Give three reasons with scriptural proofs.
the rational for the emphasis in scripture on the humanity of Christ, rather
than on his deity, in earning righteousness for us.
how Christ’s office of High Priest and Mediator involve both of his natures,
human and divine.
Chapter 5: Justifying Faith, Simple or
I tell you the truth,
anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child
will never enter it. Mark 10:15.
If a child can exercise faith, doesn't this
prove faith is simple? Not necessarily. The active ingredient in faith, simple
trust, is more direct in children, because the other two elements, knowledge
and reason, present fewer problems for them.
While this explains why even a child can enter
heaven, it doesn’t prove faith is simple. Faith, like other aspects of the
Gospel, is both simple and profound. Children grasp it easily while scholars
delight in its depths.
If faith were entirely simple, the Apostle
James would not distinguish one kind leading to justification from the other
ending in condemnation (James 2). Nor would we see the Apostle Paul in Romans
4 giving a break-down of faith’s essential components,
using Abraham as the example.
We need to exercise faith with the simple trust
of children, yet not remain childish in our understanding of it. Though we
avoid complicating faith beyond biblical limits, neither do we simplify it
any further. Besides, some of the complexities result in delightful surprises.
The next surprise
No sooner do students recover from the surprise
that faith is not the basis of our salvation, the righteousness of Christ is,
then we hit them with another: Justifying faith, by itself, has no intrinsic
value, possesses no merit, is not a good work and deserves no reward.
As with the first surprise, this one loses
its radical tone with a little explanation. Faith is like an empty box. It
takes its value from its contents. If the box contains Christ, then its value
is immeasurable. What if the box contains the devil? What value does it have
Faith therefore, is morally neutral, taking
its value from the object to which it is associated. Looking at it this way,
faith may not even be a virtue, unless it is directed toward Christ. In fact,
it can even become an evil thing, such as faith in a false god, or faith in
one’s own righteousness.
What about 1Cor.13:13? Paul classifies faith as one of the three great virtues
along with hope and love. The context assumes our affections are directed toward
Christ. Paul does not imply faith in anything is a virtue, any more
than he would consider love a virtue if it were directed toward a neighbor's
wife. In the secular world people use the term faith when they really
mean hope, self-confidence or a mystical religious feeling. 
The reformers were adamant that faith is not
meritorious. They stood in sharp contrast to Catholicism, which views faith
like a good work, deserving of a reward. Such a view undermines salvation by
grace alone because of the subtle way merit enters the picture.
Why is faith not meritorious?
What then shall we
say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? Romans 4:1.
Abraham made an unexpected discovery. God granted
him something he did not deserve...forgiveness of sins and a declaration that
he was righteous.
Abraham immediately concluded it could not
have been because of his good works. He had none to speak of, or the Bible
would have spoken of them...certainly nothing that would earn Abraham the right
for one of his offspring, Christ, to rule the nations.
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast
So, the vehicle for justification had to be
something he already possessed, yet which he could not brag about. This excludes
works because he could brag about them since they deserve a reward.
Now when a man works,
his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. (V.3)
The only existing agent is faith and faith
However, to the man
who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is
credited as righteousness. (V.5)
Paul proves faith is not a work and deserves
no reward. Otherwise, he would exclude it as the vehicle of justification.
Therefore, the promise
comes by faith, so that it may be by grace... (V.16)
By concluding that faith is the only possible
vehicle of grace, Paul reveals a paradox:
Faith would be an unworthy vehicle of grace
if it were a work, a merit or possessing inherent righteousness. It would become
a rival of the righteousness of Christ, and that is unthinkable.
A minor squabble broke out during the Reformation
period, particularly in Poland, because of the heretical teachings of an eccentric
Italian named Socius, born in 1539. 
Among these was the notion that our faith itself
is the righteousness we receive in justification and the only righteousness
we need. Not only did this amount to an implicit denial of the imputation of
the righteousness of Christ but it also meant that faith itself did the work
of saving us.
This amounted to a subtle and dangerous re-defining
of sola fide (by faith alone). Those who embraced this idea would affirm
that we are saved by faith alone. This would mean we save ourselves by our
faith, which is a form of righteousness. This was a radical departure from
what the reformers meant.
Socinianism died out even before the death
of Socius. Yet this particular teaching persists today in Arminianism. 
Millions of Christians today believe their
own faith is their righteousness, or that it was faith itself that saved them.
They miss the beauty of Christ's own imputed righteousness and the security
that comes from understanding it.
Socius missed the point in Eph.2:8-9:
you have been saved, through faith...
Apparently Socius could not grasp the difference
between through and by. It is grace that does the saving. Faith
is the means through which grace comes.
From this comes another surprise: Faith itself
does not save us. It simply makes it possible to receive something that does
A subtle logic trap lays here. To say it is
impossible to be saved without faith, does not mean
faith is the cause of the saving. Christ himself is the cause.
Reformers, then and now, quickly saw that if
faith itself were our righteousness, and if the faith came from us, then it
follows that we save ourselves by our own righteousness. Any need for the imputed
righteousness of Christ goes out the window, which in turns makes the active
obedience of Christ, his life under the law, meaningless.
The reformers attacked this error by showing
a distinction between efficient cause and instrumental cause.
A good example is the difference between a sculptor and a chisel. The sculptor
is the efficient cause because he is the one doing the work. The chisel
is the instrumental cause because it is the instrument, or means, by
which the sculptor labors. 
In salvation, God’s grace is the efficient cause.
It involves the divine favor of forgiveness of sins with the imputation of
the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness becomes the basis for our acceptance.
Faith is merely the instrumental cause that brings to us the efficient cause.
This phrase Instrumental Cause has became
standard theological terminology for contrasting the biblical view of the relationship
of faith to salvation with the errors of Catholicism, Arminianism and related
movements. Calvin compares:
For scripture everywhere proclaims that the efficient cause
of our obtaining eternal life is the mercy of the Heavenly Father...the formal
or instrumental cause is faith. 
Calvin points to the Father who does the saving.
The means God uses, is faith. God is the God of the indirect. See how easy
it is to confuse the means (faith) with the source (God)?
Others, like the outstanding English scholar
John Owen, used the term instrumental repeatedly when teaching on justification.  For refuting the teaching that our own faith
is our righteousness, my personal favorite scholar is Francis Turretin. His
arguments are succinct and striking. 
Berkhof mentions, The name instrumental
cause is used regularly in Protestant confessions.  An
example is the Heidelberg Catechism:
63. Why do you say that you are righteous by faith alone?
It is not that faith has any worth or merit to God, for it is not a work
or meriting condition, but it is God’s instrument through which He gives
me the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ (1Cor. 1:30; 2:2),
and it is the only way that He does this (1John 5:10). 
The Westminster Confession concurs:
Faith - receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness
- is the only instrument of justification. 
Below is a summary of common arguments used by Reformed scholars, both
ancient and modern.
The Scriptures teach that Christ himself
is our righteousness
been made unto us righteousness. 1Cor.1:30.
Turretin comments, Scripture
nowhere says that God
willed to count our faith righteousness, but that He made Christ unto us righteousness.  He
then points that if Christ himself is the righteousness, then nothing that
proceeds from us, faith included, could be that righteousness. ...it is
evident that a man cannot be justified by two righteousnesses (one in himself,
the other in Christ.) 
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed
in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Jn.1:12.
How do we become the children of God? By
receiving Christ. How is Christ received? By believing in him. The point:
Believing itself does not grant the right to be called God’s children. Receiving
Christ does. Faith is the instrument.
The Scriptures consistently distinguish
between the righteousness that is imputed and the faith that receives it
found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the
law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness
that comes from God and is by faith. Phil.3:9.
This is probably the most important verse in
the Bible on the relationship between righteousness and faith. Paul first distinguishes
between the righteousness by which he is “found” in Christ, from any righteousness
of his own. This righteousness has a source outside himself,
namely God, and comes through faith. This refutes doctrine that equates faith
Nevertheless, Paul does not denigrate the necessity
of faith. He hastens to add a phrase, which at first seems repetitive: — the
righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Notice the change in prepositions from “through
faith” (día pisteos) in the first part of the verse, to “by faith”
(epi te pistei). This clause literally reads “upon the faith.” Notice the
article “the” and the preposition upon are in the second clause
and not first. This makes the Greek grammar strong, and implies something like,
“upon condition of that sort of faith, period.” Paul means, this kind of faith
is the sole condition and is so essential, we never
receive any righteousness without it.
Like a skier avoiding barriers, Paul skillfully
navigates between two errors. He wants it clear that faith is absolutely indispensable,
even though being found in Christ is based on something outside of us, a righteousness
which comes from God.
If Paul were a philosopher today, he might
say the righteousness of Christ is the efficient cause of our acceptance,
while faith is the instrumental cause.
Our faith is not perfect in this life
...we are not justified except by
a perfect righteousness. For we have to deal with the strict righteousness
of God... Now no faith here is perfect. 
Hodge adds indignantly,
What comparison is there between the absolutely perfect...righteousness
of Christ, and our own imperfect Evangelical obedience as a ground of confidence
and peace!? 
D. The grammar of the original Greek demands
This righteousness from God comes through faith
in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Rom.3:22.
The Greek phrase here for through faith is día
pisteos, which can only mean "by” or “through” faith." This
is the genitive case in Greek and denotes instrument.  If Paul meant faith itself is righteousness,
he would have used the accusative case, which would read "día pistin," ("because
of faith," or “on account of faith.”) This construction
does not exist in the New Testament. 
Theologians for the past four hundred years
have pointed out this important grammatical point, yet the notion persists
widely that faith itself is our righteousness.
...día is nowhere used in the
whole New Testament with a genitive case, but that it denotes an instrumental
Turretin, in refuting the Catholic notion that
faith justifies meritoriously, said:
The scripture never says this, but always either "by faith" or "through
faith" (dia pisteos) as by an instrument. 
the Bible we are justified by faith, dia pisteos, and that this dia can
only be understood in an instrumental sense. 
The most common misunderstanding
What does the Scripture
say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
Paul is quoting from Genesis 15:6, which is
the Old Testament verse most often cited in the New Testament. Paul refers
to it four times in Romans Chapter 4 alone.
At first sight, it appears Paul is saying God
counted Abraham’s faith itself as his righteousness. If so, it would contradict
everything else he said about the relationship between faith and the righteousness
of Christ. We already saw in Romans 3:22 that righteousness comes from God
through faith. This distinguishes the two. Calvin summarizes:
For faith is said to justify because it receives
and embraces the righteousness offered in the gospel. 
How do we challenge this misinterpretation?
The context of Romans 3:22, Paul is contrasting
faith with works, not faith with righteousness. This is important to keep in
mind as we look at the Greek grammar:
The phrase, as righteousness, is eis
dikaiosune. The preposition eis, translated here as, is often
translated in the Old King James as unto. It implies the idea of “movement
toward.” The nuance is something like "with a view to obtaining righteousness."
This supports the idea of instrumental cause
and certainly does not convey substitution, with the idea of faith being the
righteousness itself. If this were Paul’s intent, he would have used other
Greek prepositions, such as anti ("instead of") or even hyper ("on
Turretin points out how the benefit from something
is sometimes associated so closely with its cause that the cause is used metaphorically
as a synonym.  Example: In Jn.17:3 and
12:50, obedience to God’s command (which must include faith) is called “eternal
life.”  The obedience itself is not the life, but leads
A good example of this is when Jesus said to
a repentant woman, Your faith has saved
you. (Lk.7:50) he meant the woman’s faith opened
the door to the One who does the saving. He would never imply that the woman’s
faith did the saving without him. If that were the case, she need not have
bothered coming to Jesus at all.
Likewise in Romans 4. Faith
is so vitally associated with obtaining righteousness that the two are mentioned
almost as one. A little care with our logic proves this. The first immediate
result of faith is the forgiveness of sins (Romans 4:7). Just
as faith itself is not forgiveness of sins, but leads immediately to it, so
faith is not righteousness but leads immediately to it.
Faith is both simple and profound. Paradoxically,
it is the only worthy vehicle for conveying grace, precisely because it is
not meritorious. It takes its value from the object to which it is directed...Christ.
Faith is the sole “instrumental” cause of salvation,
but not the “efficient” cause. The scriptures always talk about salvation as by faith
or through faith but never because of faith. This means
faith alone, apart from works, conveys the Christ who does the saving. It is
not therefore righteousness itself, but the means to that end.