Dear Church Family,
Before we get into our review of the most recent Sunday school class and the Westminster Larger Catechism, I want to recommend a debate/discussion that I listened to last week entitled “For/Against Calvinism” with Michael Horton (for) and Roger Olson (against). I was speaking with a friend last week on the phone and he mentioned this recording which I think is from 2012 (the recording is about an hour and twenty minutes long).
I listened to the recording and now I recommend it to you. There are two main things that I appreciate about this debate/discussion. First, it is irenic; both participants are friendly and cordial to one another, even amidst strong differences. Second, I appreciate Michael Horton’s continual referencing and explanation of Scripture in his very good description of Reformed theology. He seeks to show that Reformed theology is more than just the “five points of Calvinism” and that Reformed theology is simply biblical theology. Here is a link to the debate/discussion: https://youtu.be/1D2SWKbZSIU?si=_A6aVmTBQlu4qJWJ.
Now, here is our continuing review of our study of the Westminster Larger Catechism. This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 73-75.
WLC 73 How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, not as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.
The WLC has four questions having to do with justification (WLC 70-73). Each question focuses on a different aspect of this important doctrine: the definition of justification (WLC 70), how the justification of a sinner is costly to God but free to the sinner (WLC 71), the origin and essential elements of justifying faith (WLC 72), and how justifying faith works (WLC 73). It is this last question that we now come to.
There are two means identified in this catechism question by which faith does not justify a sinner in the sight of God. First, faith does not justify a sinner because of other graces which accompany it (e.g., repentance, adoption, etc.) nor by good works which are a fruit of justification (Romans 3:27-28). This is the error of the Roman Catholic Church which teaches that justification is conferred in baptism and that, in addition to Christ’s sacrifice, the good works of believers are part of what justifies a sinner in the sight of God. Second, faith does not justify as if the grace of faith, or the activity of faith, were imputed to the sinner (Romans 4:5-8). That is to say, the activity of faith is not that which justifies the sinner. The is the error of liberal Protestantism and others who view faith as a work, something which God rewards.
The Word of God is clear on this point. There is only one means by which faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God: it is the alone instrument by which the sinner receives and applies Christ and His righteousness. With the Apostle Paul, believers count all their works as rubbish, knowing that their righteousness is not their own derived from the Law; the believer’s righteousness comes from God and is derived through faith in Christ (Philippians 3:8-11). Sinners are justified by faith alone through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Galatians 2:16).
WLC 74 What is adoption?
A. Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory.
While justification is a legal change (the sinner is declared righteous in God’s sight), adoption is a personal change (the believer is made a child of God). Logically, adoption is a result and comes after justification, but in our experience these two acts of God are simultaneous. He who is justified and declared righteous is immediately also adopted and made a son of God. Though intimately connected, justification is spoken of in terms of a court of law, while adoption moves the believer into the family room.
WLC 74 identifies six aspects of adoption whereby those whom are justified (1) are received into the number of his children (John 1:12), (2) have God’s name put upon them (Revelation 3:12), (3) the Spirit of God’s Son given to them (Galatians 4:6), (4) are under his fatherly care and dispensations (Psalm 103:13), (5) are admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God (Hebrews 6:12), and (6) are made heirs of all the promises and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory (Romans 8:17).
The Lord Almighty declares, “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me” (2 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Samuel 7:14). It is according to God’s grace by which we have been justified and adopted into the family of God and made coheirs with Christ; and, thus, we are motivated to live our lives as becomes the children of God, cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit and perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
WLC 75 What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath, before the foundation of the world, chosen to be holy, are in time, through the powerful operation of his Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin, and rise unto newness of life.
Justification, adoption, and sanctification are all of God’s grace, but there are some differences. Both justification and adoption are called “an act” of God’s free grace (WLC 70, 74). In contrast, sanctification is called “a work” of God’s free grace (WLC 75). This distinction is an important one. It refers to the fact that justification and adoption are one-time acts of God which are unrepeatable, while sanctification is a continuing work of God in the life of the believer.
Sanctification includes two parts: dying to sin (mortification of sin) and rising unto newness of life (vivification of the spirit). God accomplishes this mortification of sin and vivification of the spirit by applying the death and resurrection of Christ to the elect. Believers have become united to Christ in the likeness of His death and so also are united to Him in the likes of His resurrection (Romans 6:5). Thus, we are no longer salves to sin for we have been freed from sin (Romans 6:6-7).
In this sanctification process of becoming more holy, God calls us to cooperate with the powerful operation of His Spirit in us. Because we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection, we consider ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:10-11). Therefore, God exhorts us, as His children and those who are united to Christ, to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies and obey its lusts – mortification (Romans 6:12); rather, He likewise exhorts us to present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead and to live for Him – vivification (Romans 6:13).
It is important to note, also, that the catechism speaks of sanctification as being renewed in “the whole man” after the image of God. That is to say, sanctification is not merely a spiritual (inward) work, nor is it merely a bodily (outward) work. Sanctification and the pursuit of holiness is of the whole person, body and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). The Word of God commands us to be transformed in our whole person which includes the renewing of our minds as well as presenting our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2).
It is wonderful to explore the grace of God to sinners in His justification, adoption, and sanctification. As we will see in the coming questions in the catechism, understanding the work of God’s grace in our lives through these gifts of God teaches us how we may live for Him and how we may gain assurance of salvation.
Join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am as we continue our study of the Westminster Larger Catechism!
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch