First sentence: In the old city of Geneva, Switzerland, there is a large park on the grounds of the University of Geneva that commemorates the Reformation. That park is adorned with a huge wall, called the International Monument to the Reformation or simply the Reformation Wall. In statues and bas-reliefs, the wall depicts figures from the Reformation including John Calvin, John Knox, William Farel, and Theodore Beza. Surrounding these and other statues, the motto of the Reformation is inscribed on each side: post tenebras lux—after darkness, light.
How Can I Be Right With God by R.C. Sproul is a wee little book on justification by faith alone. It is a little primer on what justification meant to the Reformers during the Reformation, and also why it remains important for believers today.
It is written for you and me. It is not written for academic scholars. The subject, you see, is a practical one. You may not believe me that any doctrine can be practical and that a book about a central doctrine is practical at heart and in nature. But think about it, is there any question more important that we can ask: HOW CAN I BE RIGHT WITH GOD?
It is a refresher course for most of us. But for some it may be life-changing indeed. Either way, this little book is well worth reading.
When the gospel is at stake, everything is at stake, because the gospel tells us how we can be right with God.
The New Testament makes it clear that each of us will be called into account before God, and that God is righteous while we’re not. The doctrine of justification addresses the solution to that problem, declaring how we, as unjust people, can be reconciled to a just and holy God. So if there’s anything in the essence of the Christian faith, of the good news of the gospel, it’s this doctrine.
Do you think it’s important to know how you can be saved? Does it matter to you what is the basis upon which your own salvation rests? I can’t think of anything that matters more. We must all ask, with the Philippian jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
We are made and declared righteous by virtue of God’s imputing to us the righteousness of Christ, of His counting Jesus’ righteousness and merit for us. We are just by virtue of Christ’s righteousness—but if God were to consider us in and of ourselves, in our naked humanity, without seeing us in Christ, He would find us to be sinners. We are not miraculously changed into sinless people; we are sinners in the process of becoming sanctified. We are, in Luther’s terms, people who have a medical condition and have been given medicine, which takes time to cure us. But we don’t have to wait for God to accept us in Christ. So this forensic declaration is based upon a transfer or accounting: Christ’s righteousness and merit are attributed to us while we are still sinners.
A common misunderstanding is that the only thing that Jesus did to save people was to die on the cross for their sins, and that’s certainly very important to our justification. But if all it took for people to be justified was for Christ to pay the penalty due for sin, then He would have descended from heaven fully grown, gone directly to the cross to pay the price and satisfy the demands of God’s justice, then returned in glory to heaven with His people’s redemption accomplished. In biblical terms, however, two things are required.
The first is that our sin must be punished, which Christ’s death on the cross accomplished. But all that did was get us back to a state of innocence, like Adam before the fall. We would still have no positive righteousness to bring before God. So the second thing that is required to effect our redemption is that there must be a provision of positive righteousness for God to declare us righteous. That’s why Christ came into the world born as a baby, born under the law, in order to become the new Adam and to live His entire life in perfect, active obedience before God. For Jesus to qualify as our Savior, He had to live a sinless life in addition to dying an atoning death. What happens in our justification is that a double imputation takes place. To impute is to transfer or credit, so our sins are imputed to Jesus and His righteousness is imputed to us.
Calvin insisted that justification is not just initiated by faith, it is completed by faith.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible