Section navigation

Justification by Faith Alone – 3

Category Articles
Date May 26, 2003

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was right when he said that "if your preaching of the gospel of Gods’ free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism you’re not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ."

by Ian Hamilton


The previous article dealt with "God’s Gracious Provision". The speaker concluded by asking: "What does this (the gospel of the grace of God) mean for our lives?" He stated that there are four things that this doctrine of God’s gratuitous justification in and through Jesus Christ brings to our lives. It is productive, first of all of humility, secondly of assurance, thirdly, there will be consecration, and finally it brings you to transformation. Transformation is where justification inevitably leads, because the righteousness that is imputed to us is by union with Christ and by the work of the Spirit imparted to us. "No other gospel", that is to say that the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ is an inherently non-negotiable gospel because God Himself is non-I negotiable. This is not a gospel that originated in the fertile imagination of the apostle Paul. It is a gospel which is rooted in the eternal immutable character and purposes of the ever blessed God.

In Romans 3 Paul insists on six occasions that we are justified by faith. (v.22-30). He is telling us not that faith is the basis or the ground of the believer’s justification. He’s not saying that the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ is that which makes up for, and replaces our failure to obey God’s law. I say that because there are those who argue that faith in Christ really is the ground of our justification before God. They quote verses like Romans 4:3. "What does the Scripture say? " says Paul. "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. "And people say, there you have it. It was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness. And if this was so, then faith itself becomes the ground) the basis of the believer’s justification, then faith takes the place of the righteousness demanded by God’s holy law. But in God’s word, however, we find that we are justified by faith or through faith, or upon faith, but never are we told that we are justified on account of faith, or because of faith. The faith that justifies us is faith in Jesus Christ. And faith justifies us because in Christ it comes to share in a righteousness which perfectly conforms to God’s law, and which God in His grace freely gives to sinners. So faith justifies. Not by its own intrinsic moral worth, but by its content, which is the righteousness of Christ. It is faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness has been imputed to us by the free grace of God.

Let us turn to Galatians 1, particularly the verses 6 through 10 that will be the central focus of our thinking this afternoon. There are those who pursue the high and laudable goal of ecumenicity. Ecumenicity is a laudable goal, but unity of the church of Jesus Christ is never, ever served by the watering down, far less the abandoning of, the very gospel that brings the church of God into existence. In Galatians Paul is writing to Christians who, he tells us, are in imminent danger of deserting Christ, of abandoning (verse 6), not simply the grace of God but the God of grace. "I am astonished", he writes, that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel". They were in the process of changing sides, of turning, says the apostle, to a different gospel. Is it any wonder that Paul writes, I am astonished. I’m at a loss, he says. Do you never wonder with utter astonishment how it is that people could depart from such glorious truths to a different gospel? It’s no wonder then, that Paul calls down God’s curse, God’s anathema, His ban on those behind their potential defection from Christ. "If any one preaches to you", he says, "a gospel other than the one we preached to you ", the gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in and by Jesus Christ alone, "let him be eternally condemned"’ Let him know the unceasing, eternal outpouring of the wrath and judgment of God.

With this as a background I want to look with you at three things concerning the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

(1) First I want to note that in these verses Paul is writing here to apostolically founded churches. And what the apostle writes here should sober all of us because these churches were churches that had witnessed first hand the power of the gospel. Paul writes in chapter 3, "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified" Verse 5: ‘Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? "They had known God manifestly at work among them. They had experienced the transforming power of justifying grace among them and in them. And yet here they are in the very process, says Paul, of "deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel". He can hardly take it in.

My friends, never think for one moment that your church is immune from deserting Christ and His gospel. Paul is addressing here professing, apostolically taught believers, and yet he can speak of them as "those who were deserting God". In fact in chapter 5:4 he says to them, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace." There is a tremendous temptation that we think ourselves above such defections. Oh, we are Reformed, we are grounded in the Reformed faith. But: "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall " It has happened to better people than you and me. And we need greatly to cry to our gracious Father in heaven that He would grant us such humility of heart that we would be kept and protected and guarded from the insidious, bewitching intrusions of the evil one, as he would seek to divert us away from this great hinge of true religion which is the doctrine of the justifying grace of God, through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

(2) Secondly, who were these people who were troubling the Galatians and distorting the gospel of Christ? The people who are bringing the Galatians into confusion were Judaizers, false teachers. They insisted that in addition to faith in Christ there must be submission to the law of Moses. They were adding works to faith. Jesus Christ alone was not enough. Faith needed to be supplemented by works and Christ needed to be supplemented by Moses.

Now there was a certain plausibility about what these Judaizers were teaching. And even the most perverse doctrine often has a certain initial plausibility. But these false teachers wanted to do what God will never allow anyone to do, and that is to make a contribution to their acceptance with Him.

God’s law is holy, just, and good, and no one wants the gospel of grace accused of antinomianism. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was right when he said that "if your preaching of the gospel of Gods’ free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism you’re not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ."

(3) Thirdly, let us reflect a little on the extravagance of the apostle’s language. "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned"’ You see, Paul is utterly intolerant. He pronounces an anathema on these false teachers.

His language embarrasses many Christians. It doesn’t seem to fit in with the context in which we find the evangelical church today. In an age of tolerance and of polite ecumenical dialogue, what Paul writes just seems to be at total variance.

Notice a number of things about Paul’s language. First of all, it was not an intemperate outburst. It was his considered conviction, his calmly formed unalterable conviction.

The second thing we should notice is that Paul’s language echoes the imprecatory Psalms (i.e. Ps.69) and other Old Testament passages And he says the same thing at the end of 1 Corinthians 16, "If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him. "Paul’s language here is Biblical language.

(4) Fourthly, his language reflects and echoes the teaching of our Saviour Jesus Christ in Matthew 18:6, Matthew 23 and other passages where our Saviour speaks so solemnly of those who deny and pervert the gospel.

Why is Paul so passionate for faith alone? Because faith rests upon and gives glory to grace. Isn’t that the way Paul expresses it in Romans 4:16. "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace". And the sole object of justifying faith is Jesus Christ in the sufficiency of His glorious one act of obedience which, by the grace of God, is imputed to those who believe. If in any sense we were to be justified by works there would be no gospel at all.

Let me say this one thing as we close. The justifying righteousness that God by His grace imputes to us is a justifying righteousness that is in Christ. And in Christ we’re not only declared righteous, we are constituted righteous. And from that moment begins the great transforming process where God conforms us to the likeness of His Son. We never divide justification and sanctification. We distinguish them because we jealously guard the glory of Christ, but we never divide them because the inevitable fruit of a justified life is a sanctified life. The inevitable consequence of being justified is becoming more like Jesus. And that’s why the pulse beat of the justified life is this:

More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show,
More of His saving fullness see,
More of the Life that died for me.

To be like Jesus, to be like Jesus, all I ask. To be like Him all through life’s journey, from earth to glory. All I ask, to be like Him. Not the best poetry you’ve ever heard, but it is pristine apostolic reformational doctrine, because the end point of justifying righteousness is conformity to the Saviour.

[These three messages are a condensed version of addresses by Ian Hamilton at the Fifth Annual Reformed Bible Conference held in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada in May 2002. Rev. Ian Hamilton is a minister of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church, Cambridge, England, and he is a trustee of the Banner of Truth Trust. Mrs. Mary Enter transcribed the material, which was prepared by Mr. N. Gazendam for publication in ‘The Trumpet’, February – April 2003 (PO BOX 284, Kleinburg, ON, Canada, LOJ 1CO).]

Latest Articles

Finished!: A Message for Easter March 28, 2024

Think about someone being selected and sent to do an especially difficult job. Some major crisis has arisen, or some massive problem needs to be tackled, and it requires the knowledge, the experience, the skill-set, the leadership that they so remarkably possess. It was like that with Jesus. Entrusted to him by God the Father […]

Every Christian a Publisher! February 27, 2024

The following article appeared in Issue 291 of the Banner Magazine, dated December 1987. ‘The Lord gave the word; great was the company of those that published it’ (Psalm 68.11) THE NEED FOR TRUTH I would like to speak to you today about the importance of the use of liter­ature in the church, for evangelism, […]