As we observe Reformation Sunday, let us revisit two important aspects of our reformed faith: justification and faith. Let’s look at the Westminster Confession of Faith, Statement 11.2.
Faith, receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification, yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love. (WFC 11.2)1
What is justification?
WCF Shorter Catechism answers, “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, in which he pardons all our sin, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”2
Another way to grasp the essence of justification is to understand what it is not. It does not mean to be made righteous. Rather, it means, declared righteous. It is a one time act of God on the person, not a process. This act is a legal declaration that a person is righteous because of the perfect righteousness of Christ, credited to us, and received by faith in Christ. Therefore it is also not a reward for our faith.
What is faith?
Faith that justifies is a work of divine grace. It is a gift from God. It is “...resting on what Jesus has done, to abandon any attempt to please God on our own with our goodness, and trust in Christ and his righteousness. Faith is simply believing that Jesus Christ has paid any debt that we owed, and endured any punishment that we deserve. Faith that justifies, or saves, is receiving and resting on Christ alone.”3
How are we justified through faith, and faith alone?
Faith is simply the instrument by which we receive Christ and his righteousness. Remember, we are justified solely on the ground of Christ’s righteousness.
To illustrate, consider the process of laying the foundation for a building. The foundation framework represents us. The cement that is poured represents the perfect righteousness of Christ. The conduit down which the cement is poured represents the faith through which the righteousness is received. God himself installs the conduit. Through this conduit God pours the cement of perfect righteousness of Christ and creates the legal foundation on which we construct our new life in Christ.5
Some wrongly hold that hope, love and repentance are included in faith as justifying. Some think that faith is an act performed, for example, obedience; others think faith is to be considered as the condition of our justification. All of these would need human works to qualify as faith.4 But Scripture says we are justified by faith and not by works (Romans 4:2,3).
Note also that our Confession does not merely describe faith as the instrument, but as the alone instrument of justification. We are justified freely by grace, and therefore by faith alone — because this “alone” is consistent with its being by grace alone.4 (Romans 3:24; 4:16)
Then how is faith not alone?
Our Bible also clearly teaches that when a man is justified — that is, truly believing and resting on Christ — then he will begin to do “good works”, or works of love. These good works are the “fruit of faith”, come as a result of justification.
“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:26
“For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in ChristJesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Galatians 5:6,7. See also James 2:17,22
Therefore faith is not alone, but is always accompanied by saving graces like love, hope, patience and joy.
What does this mean to me?
We can give thanks and rejoice in what God has done for us through faith in Jesus Christ. We can also give thanks for the gift of accompanying saving graces that God gives to us for our Christian journey. Romans 5:1-5 sums it up:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been pouredinto our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
(Note: The above are largely quoted from the references below to preserve the precision and clarity of the work of these authors. There is more to justification and faith, and the related doctrines that make our Confession rich and coherent in Bible truths. I encourage you to further read these on your own.)
1 G.I. Williamson, Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Class, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing
2 The Westminster Shorter Catechism
3 Chad Van Dixhoorn, Confessing the Faith - A Reader’sGuide to the Westminster Confession of Faith,
Banner of Truth
4 Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Christian Heritage
5 Roger Smalling,Unlocking Grace - A Study Guide in the Doctrines of Grace, Deo Volente Publishing - Lee Pang Wee