For the benefit of your readers please allow me to distance myself from a flagrant misrepresentation of my position on the relation between faith and justification that appeared on p. 22 of the July/August issue of The Outlook. R. Scott Clark attributes to me the view that “faith justifies because it trusts and obeys,” and that “faith justifies because it works.” This is not and has never been my view.
My view is that we are justified only by faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). This justifying faith is a living . and active faith. If it is not living and active it is dead faith, and dead faith neither saves nor justifies (James 2:14,24). In the words of the Westminster Confession, Chapter 11, Section 2, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith [James 2:17, 26], but worketh by love [Gal. 5:6].”
Neither the Westminster Confession nor I make works the cause, or the ground, or any part of the ground of our acceptance with God, any more than faith itself is the cause or the ground of our acceptance with God.
This same view is found in vol. 4 of Herman Bavinck’s monumental Reformed Dogmatics now available in English. In his chapter on justification (pp. 222f.) Bavinck argues that saving faith is not “a ‘knowledge of history’ or a ‘bare assent’ to certain truths.” Saving faith “is by its very nature a living and active faith, and it is not in every respect antithetical to all work. … Faith itself is not a ground for justification; neither, therefore, are the works that proceed from it. But faith is not opposed to work if by it one should mean that only a dead, inactive faith can justify us.” He goes on to say, “The Reformed therefore also said that, indeed, ‘it is faith alone that justifies; nevertheless the faith that justifies is not alone. ,,, The citation is from Calvin’s Institutes, 311115.
Comparing Paul and James, Bavinck writes, “Both deny that the ground of our justification consists in the works of the law, and both acknowledge that faith, that is, living faith, the faith that includes and produces good works, is the means by which the Holy Spirit assures us of our righteousness in Christ. … The faith that justifies is the certainty-produced in our hearts by the Holy Spirit-of our righteousness in Christ. Therefore not the more passive but the more lively and forceful it is, the more it justifies us. Faith, accordingly, is active along with works and is ‘brought to completion by the works’ (James 2:22).”
Bavinck offers an historically accurate and authentic statement of the Reformed doctrine of faith in relation to justification. The view expressed in the Nine Points of URCNA Synod 2007and in Clark’s exposition of them is incompatible with the Reformed view as expressed by Bavinck.
For a more complete statement of my views with reference to faith and justification I refer readers of The Outlook to A Faith that is Never Alone: A Response to Westminster Seminary California (P. Andrew Sandlin, Editor, LaGrange, CA: Kerygma Press, 2007). My chapters on “Faith and Faithfulness” and “The Imputation of Active Obedience” respond in detail to the positions of Robert Godfrey and Scott Clark respectively.
Sincerely, Rev. Norman Shepherd