A week or so ago we pointed to some new Reformation books that have been published, one of them being Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016; 219 pp.).
The first chapter gets at one of the key doctrines restored during the great Reformation of the church – justification, or as the book has it in the subtitle, “How Can We Be Saved?” After giving an account of how Luther was led by the Lord to rediscover this truth of salvation, the authors summarize “Luther’s theology of justification” this way:
- Justification is a forensic act by which a believer is declared righteous. Justification is not a process by which a person is made righteous. ‘Forensic’ means legal – it invokes the image of a law court. It involves a change of status – not a change of nature.
- The cause of justification is the alien righteousness of Christ. It is not inherent within a person or in any sense said to belong to us. It is ‘imputed’ or reckoned to us. It is not ‘imparted’ or poured into us.
- Justification is by faith alone. We contribute nothing. Christ has achieved everything for us already.
- Because justification is an act of God and because it is based on the finished work of Christ, we can have assurance (p.32).
A few paragraphs later the authors raise the question,
So, does justification still matter? The answer must be a resounding yes. Nothing maters more than justification by Christ alone through faith alone. If justification by faith seems obvious to you, then it is because of Luther. But we must not presume on his legacy.
Many attempts have been made to move the center ground of Christianity elsewhere. But the fact remains that the biggest problem facing humanity is God’s justice. God is committed to judging sin. And that means he is committed to judging my sin. This is our biggest problem because that means an eternity excluded from the glory of God (p.34).
To which they add,
This is why Luther described justification as ‘the summary of Christian doctrine’ and ‘the article by which the church stands or falls.’
But it is not just at a doctrinal or ecclesial level that it matters. It is a deeply personal doctrine. Every time I sin, I create a reason to doubt my acceptance by God, and I question my future with God. But day after day the doctrine of justification speaks peace to my soul (p.35).
Good things to think about as we remember the Reformation and give thanks for the gospel of grace restored to the church in the sixteenth century.