Having This Ministry
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Introducing Challenging the Traditional Interpretations of Justification by Faith, Part 2

In 2021 Living Stream released the inaugural volume in its new series, Historical Evaluations of Christian Thought, on the topic of justification by faith. Now we are pleased to announce the release of the second part, entitled Challenging the Traditional Interpretations of Justification by Faith, Part 2. We would like to introduce you to this new publication.

Challenging the Traditional Interpretations of Justification by Faith, Part 2

In the January 2022 issue of our newsletter, we introduced Living Stream’s new series, Historical Evaluations of Christian Thought. This series came out of a long-standing burden in Brother Nee and Brother Lee to evaluate the history of Christian teaching in the light of the ministry given to them by the Lord for His recovery. More than twenty-five years after Brother Lee gave the initial commission to carry out this burden, Living Stream released the first volume, Challenging the Traditional Interpretations of Justification by Faith, Part 1. This book, presented in detail in our February 2022 newsletter, puts forth the following view of justification by faith: “Through God’s infusion into them, the believers are joined to the Christ whom they believe into, and He becomes, among many other things, their righteousness before God…Since they are inseparable from Christ as righteousness, God accepts the believers in their union with Him and justifies them because they have Him as their righteousness.” (Challenging, part 1, p. 12). With this as the evaluative standard, the authors then examine justification by faith as seen in the Patristic era, in the medieval era, and finally, with Martin Luther.

Part 2 of Challenging the Traditional Interpretations of Justification by Faith continues this evaluation from the sixteenth century to the present. Following the great beginning of recovery seen with Martin Luther, chapter 6 traces the development of the understanding of justification by faith in Lutheranism, the tradition that arose from Luther. Many of Luther’s co-workers and followers developed their own distinctive views on justification and articulated them in various confessional documents. A very early follower of Luther, Andreas Osiander, argued that Christ is within the believers as righteousness through faith. This view, though, was rejected by almost all of Osiander’s contemporaries. Instead, Lutheran theologians developed an almost entirely forensic (legal) and external view of justification. Furthermore, many Lutherans argue today that justification is the pinnacle of Christian teaching and the Christian life, to the detriment of the believers’ further progress in God’s full and organic salvation. Despite the emphasis on external matters in Lutheranism, Christian teachers outside the Lutheran tradition picked up the recovery that Luther began.

Some of these teachers, especially John Calvin, shaped what has become the Reformed tradition, evaluated in chapter 7. Although the Reformed rightly held that justification is by faith alone and that the believers' union with Christ is necessary for justification, they wrongly concluded that the ground of justification is the forensic imputation of Christ's obedience to the law. Such a view incorrectly construes the righteousness required for justification as the righteousness of the law. Some Reformed theologians have even suggested that this understanding is an essential part of the gospel. Sadly, this great error has become a mainstay in Reformed theology.

Reacting to the Lutherans and Reformed, Roman Catholicism held the Council of Trent (1545-1563), as described in chapter 8, to codify their own understanding of justification by faith. In this council, Catholics rejected what Luther saw and instead declared that justification consists primarily in an infusion of love, a view with its roots in Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Although some Catholic theologians have since argued that union with Christ is essential for justification, Trent’s authoritative decree on justification has effectively ended any positive contribution that Catholicism can make to the church’s ongoing advance in its understanding of justification. Furthermore, Eastern Orthodoxy, covered in chapter 9, responded when presented with Reformation teaching by denying the notion of an unconditional, objective righteousness by faith alone. Rather, they insisted that justification is an ongoing process that requires a great deal of human endeavor. To this day, justification by faith is not of great concern in the Orthodox tradition.

The Anglican tradition and its descendants—Methodism, Pentecostalism, and the Plymouth Brethren—are recounted in chapter 10. Anglicanism as a tradition does not have a unified theology of justification by faith. However, certain Anglican teachers did make advancements in the understanding of this truth, particularly as regards union in relation to justification. Methodists by and large understand justification as forgiveness of sins, as do the Pentecostals. The early Plymouth Brethren, however, brought the understanding to new heights. They absolutely rejected that righteousness is tied to keeping the law or that a believer is justified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Instead, they declared that the righteousness God desires and requires is entirely apart from the principle of the law. They argued that believers are righteous based on their new position in Christ, the righteous One. Both Watchman Nee and Witness Lee highly regarded this significant advancement.

In chapter 11 the authors address particular teachers within the Baptist and evangelical traditions, traditions which generally follow the Reformed tradition in its teaching of justification by faith. Nevertheless, there are teachers within these traditions who have developed the role that union plays in justification. Particularly, Lewis Sperry Chafer argued that union is not only necessary for justification, but also sufficient for it. For Chafer, the believers’ righteousness for their justification is not Christ’s imputed obedience to the law but the person of Christ Himself, who becomes righteousness to them in their organic union with Him. Unfortunately, this insight has been largely neglected within these traditions.

In the final evaluative chapter, chapter 12, the authors critique accounts of justification by faith in modern theology. This chapter covers a broad spectrum of accounts, from the overtly heretical to the New Perspective on Paul, of which N. T. Wright is a major proponent. The novel accounts of justification proposed by thinkers in this era do nothing to advance the understanding of justification by faith. These accounts also defraud believers of Christ as their righteousness, frustrating believers in their proper understanding of this crucial truth.

The authors conclude part 2 with a retrospective that reviews the evaluative standard established in part 1 as well as their evaluation of the various Christian traditions throughout church history. They remind the reader of the righteousness that God desires and requires:

By faith we lay hold of Christ, who has been given to us as the righteousness of God, and by faith we are united to Him as the righteousness for our justification. By faith we, of course, believe that our sins are forgiven through the righteous work of Christ, but that is not what justifies us before God. Christ Himself, as our possession by our union with Him through faith, is our righteousness before God and the sole basis of our justification by God. There is no need for Christ’s righteous past to be reckoned to us, and there is no need for us to show forth some evidence of righteousness in love. Christ alone is sufficient as righteousness before God, and we who are joined to Him by faith are counted righteous by God and have all the evidence He needs to justify us. This, we say, is the gospel. We who believe are truly, genuinely, and even essentially righteous before God, not at all by virtue of what we are or do by ourselves, but by virtue of what Christ, who is in us through faith, is in Himself. Our justification depends on Christ in us, not on Christ outside of us, and is as sure and eternal as He is. (Challenging, part 2, p. 300).

Concluding this retrospective, the authors hope to leave the reader encouraged at the progressive recovery of this crucial truth in the Christian church that, although generally neglected by most, we hold today. Truly, the Lord has done a great deal throughout the ages to enlighten His people regarding this aspect of His complete and full salvation.

With the completion of part 2, we hope that the saints will see the great truth of justification by faith, appreciate it, and enter into the experiential benefits of justification. We also hope that part 2, along with part 1, will cause many Christians, including theologians and Bible teachers, to consider or reconsider this great truth. We thank the Lord for bringing this first topic to a completion. For information on ordering part 1 and part 2 in print or eBook format, please visit preciousfromworthless.org.