Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 69-72. Here is a brief review.
WLC 69 What is the communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ?
A. The communion in grace which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, is their partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, sanctification, and whatever else, in this life, manifests their union with him.
Back in WLC 64, the invisible church was defined as “the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ the head.” Now, WLC 69 provides a detailed outline of the benefits which the invisible church receive from Christ in communion with grace. (“Communion in grace” refers to the special benefits which the members of the invisible church enjoy in this life; “Communion in glory” refers to the benefits which the members of the invisible church enjoy in the life to come.)
This detailed outline of the benefits that the invisible church has in partaking of the virtue of Christ’s mediation provides an outline of the following questions in the catechism: justification (Q70-73), adoption (Q74) sanctification (Q75-78), other blessings which reveal the believers union with Christ like perseverance (Q79) and assurance (Q80-81).
WLC 70 What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.
There are two things mentioned in this question and answer that God does for us in justification: (1) He pardons all the sinner’s sins; (2) He accepts and accounts their persons righteous in His sight (Romans 3:21-28; 4:5-8). It is helpful to think in terms of how these two aspects of justification align with the passive and active obedience of Christ. Generally speaking, the first aspect of justification (the forgiveness of sins) aligns with Christ’s passive obedience, His suffering, while the second aspect of justification (the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) aligns with Christ’s active obedience. By way of illustration, we may say that, in the debt which we owe to God, forgiveness balances the scales, but the imputed righteousness of Christ tips the scales in our favor.
WLC 70 also lists for us two false grounds of justification which are to be rejected. Justification (1) is not based on anything wrought in the sinner, (2) nor is it based on anything done by them. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church teach that God changing our nature and our good works are additional aspects or parts of our justification; however, God’s Word is clear that we are justified by faith alone through forgiveness of sins and the imputed righteousness of Christ (Galatians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
WLC 71 How is justification an act of God’s free grace?
A. Although Christ, by his obedience and death, did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in the behalf of them that are justified, yet in as much as God accepteth the satisfaction from a surety, which he might have demanded of them and did provide this surety, his own only Son, imputing his righteousness to them, and requiring nothing of them for their justification but faith, which also is his gift, their justification is to them of free grace.
The reason and explanation of WLC 71 may seem exceptionally difficult to understand, but basically it is attempting to speak to some seemingly contradictory statements. In essence, this question speaks to how it seems contradictory to say that justification is both costly and free at the same time. The catechism answers this question by pointing out that the costliness of justification is found in the price which Christ paid in His obedience and death on the cross (Romans 5:8-10), while the free-ness of justification is found in the fact that God requires nothing from sinners but faith (Romans 3:24-25) – which itself is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9).
WLC 72 What is justifying faith?
A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.
God uses two things to create faith in the heart of a sinner. By His Spirit and the ministry of the Word, God created faith in the heart of a sinner, and thus, the sinner is convinced of four things: (1) his own sin; (2) his own misery; (3) the disability of himself to recover him out of his lost condition; and (4) the disability of all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition.
The catechism speaks not only of how faith is created and what it apprehends, it also speaks of how faith works. Sinners exercise faith by assenting to the promises of the gospel and receiving and resting upon Christ and His righteousness. Historically, Reformed theologians have discerned three chief aspects of saving faith. First, there is the knowledge or content of faith (notitia); we must hear and know the promise of salvation in the gospel preached. Second, there is the conviction or assent of faith (assensus); we must assent to the truth of the promises of the gospel. Third, there is the trust of faith (fiducia); personal trust and reliance upon Christ is the final essential aspect of saving faith.
It is reported that Martin Luther stated that “justification is the article by which the church stands or falls.” Indeed, the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone is of the utmost importance. It is what sets Protestantism apart from other parts of Christendom. And, in fact, it is what sets true biblical Christianity apart from all other religions. Justification by faith alone in Christ’s righteousness alone is at the heart of the gospel. And so, with Paul, we then declare, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”! (Romans 1:16)
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch