The final article on “Biblical Dichotomies” featured in this month’s Tabletalk (Be aware, I have not referenced them all here.) is by Dr.Cornelis Venema (Mid-America Reformed Seminary) and titled “Faith and Works” – an important subject to every Protestant, especially in this time of year (Oct.31, Reformation Day).
In light of the historic significance of these two words, Venema carefully distinguishes yet relates these two concepts in Scripture. This is a “good read” this week as we recall the Lord’s work in leading His church to a recovery of the heart of the gospel, justification by faith alone.
I give you a small portion of his article here, encouraging you to read the rest of it at the Ligonier link above.
In these verses (Romans 3:19-21 – cjt), the Apostle paints a remarkable portrait of all sinners in the presence of God’s judgment seat. In the whole world, no one can be found who, by the standard of perfect obedience that the law requires, is able to offer a case upon the basis of their works that would exonerate them from God’s condemnation. Left to themselves, all sinners must acquiesce to the sentence of condemnation and death. This is what we deserve from God, and none of us can speak a word in our defense that would establish our innocence. Nothing sinners have done or will do could possibly warrant the pronouncement of their righteousness before God.
And yet, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God justifies—declares righteous—those who embrace the gospel promise by faith alone. Out of sheer grace, God the Father grants and imputes to believers the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Through faith, believers are united to Christ and become partakers of Christ’s righteousness, which consists in His perfect obedience to all that the law of God requires and in His substitutionary endurance of the law’s penalty in the atonement.
When it comes to the believer’s justification, faith is the exclusive instrument that finds in Christ and in His saving work a full and complete satisfaction of all of the requirements of the law. Faith is not a human achievement, but the end of all boasting before God (Eph. 2:9). For this reason, John Calvin speaks of faith as a “passive” reception of what Christ has done to secure the believer’s right standing and acceptance before God. Calvin adds that faith is like an “empty vase” that is filled with the righteousness of Christ as the only ground of the believer’s right standing before God and inheritance of eternal life. When faith sings, it always sings of Christ alone: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”