What some misunderstandings about justification? Dr. Guy Waters addresses two common but dangerous misconceptions regarding the role that a Christian has to play in justification.
What are some common misunderstandings about justification? I think we could identify two major ones that continue to come up in the life and history of the church.
1. Good Works Contribute to Justification
One, and it’s common even in the lives of Christians who have been taught the reformation and biblical doctrine of justification, is that I have to do something alongside what Christ has done if God is going to count me righteous and accept me. The view doesn’t deny that Jesus died on the cross. He died on the cross so that my sins can be forgiven. But it says if I’m going to be accepted before God, counted righteous, there is something that I have to do.
The good news of the Scripture is that our justification has nothing to do with our performance.And the good news of the Scripture is that our justification—God counting the sinner righteous—has nothing to do with my performance, past, present or future. God justifies the ungodly. My righteousness for justification is entirely Christ’s, imputed to me and received through faith alone, and even that faith is the very gift of God. It’s not a work, it’s not something I have to do to get God’s righteousness, it is the means that I lay hold of the righteousness of Christ.
2. Good Works Aren’t Necessary
The other error is that we believe in Jesus Christ for justification, but some have concluded that you don’t have to do good works. They’re not necessary. And so we trust in Christ, and that’s all that can be said about the Christian life. The problem is we do have to do good works. The Scripture is clear that faith works by love, that the expected—the required—lifestyle of the Christian is to produce good works: love to God and love to other people. Those good works in no way justify us. So that raises the question, “Well, then why do we have to do good works? If they’re not part of what makes us righteous before God, why are they necessary?”
And the Scripture tells us, Paul tells us this, and James tells us this in James 2. What good works do is they show or evidence true faith. It’s one thing to say you have faith, and a lot of people do. But there’s a thing called dead faith: claim to faith, and that’s it. True faith is living. It’s vital. And the faith that lays hold of Christ and his righteousness alone for justification is a faith that will go on and do good works in thankfulness, in gratitude for all that God has done because that’s what God requires of me and because I want to please God. So good works are necessary, not that I would be justified, but to show, to confirm to me and to others, that God has justified me freely by the work of his Son.