Tabitha Pigeon's First Place Essay
By Faith Alone, Through Christ Alone
The Bible teaches: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). As Christians, our ultimate authority in all areas of life is the Word of God. If we have questions about anything, especially questions concerning doctrines such as justification, then we need to search the Scriptures for the answer. The Scriptures clearly indicate that we are justified by faith alone. We cannot justify ourselves by any works that we do. All our righteousness are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6); they will never fulfill the requirements needed to enter into heaven. Even though the Bible states many times that salvation is by faith in Christ alone, many Christians are still confused about justification. How are we saved? What must we do to be saved? Are we justified by faith or by works or both? These questions have haunted Christians since the first century. Both Paul and James addressed these issues. Paul declared that we are saved by faith alone. And James taught that faith without works is dead. The Roman Catholic church interpreted this to mean that we need works in order to be saved, but the Reformation, which was a return to the Bible, understood that good works are the result of faith. Christians are not justified by their works but by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This is a doctrine which is always under attack.
Stephen M. Cunha's book, The Emperor Has No Clothes, reveals how Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. proclaims that justification by faith is not enough for our salvation. Dr. Gaffin insists that Christians also need to be justified by works. What makes Dr. Gaffin's teachings so dangerous is its subtlety. He always affirms that Christ is the way for our salvation, but then he will add that we also need to do something in order to be saved. Mr. Cunha exposes these subtle contradictions using logic and the light of Scripture. Dr. Gaffin is in opposition to Scripture when he teaches that believers are still under God's condemnation, are justified by faith and works, and that there is no antithesis between the Law and the Gospel.
Are Believers Still Under Condemnation?
When a person is saved and becomes a Christian, is he still under God's wrath or is he completely free from condemnation? When we were still sinners, our punishment for our sins was eternal life in hell. However, Dr. Gaffin believes that even as Christians we still have to undergo a punishment for our sins. He states that death is the punishment for our unremoved sins, "[T]he continuing mortality of believers, as the consequence of sin, has legal, forensic significance. Here, we should conclude, their bodily mortality is seen as the still present, yet unremoved penal consequence of sin" (15). But Dr. Gaffin also teaches that Christ fully bore the punishment for all our sins. This is a total contradiction which Mr. Cunha points out, "Dr. Gaffin is teaching that the whole believer is justified before God and that through His death Christ has fully borne the punishment for the believer's sins, but at the same time, the believer's physical death is a consequence of sin" (17). Dr. Gaffin cannot have both statements be true; either Christ has fully borne the punishment for the believer's sins, or Christ has not, and believers still bear a punishment for sin through death. Mr. Cunha drives Dr. Gaffin's statements to their logical conclusion, "Dr. Gaffin says, that for the believer, 'bodily mortality is seen as the still present, yet unremoved penal consequence of sin.' If the believer's death is a penal consequence of sin, does it not naturally follow that a believer is...still under the condemnation of the Law of God?" (18). And if we are still under the condemnation of the law of God, then Christ's death on the cross was ineffective and futile. Mr. Cunha shows three more logical implications of Dr. Gaffin's ideas. First, "all suffering for a believer is judicial punishment for his or her sins" (19). Because if Dr. Gaffin's theory can be applied to physical death, which is a form of suffering, then his theory can also be applied to all forms of suffering. Therefore, all suffering is a punishment for sin. Second, "the believer's sufferings and death are joined with Jesus' sufferings and death in payment for the believer's sins" (19). Because punishment is a payment for wrongdoing. If we are being punished for our sins then we are paying for our sins. But Christ already paid for our sins, therefore both the believer and Christ are paying for the believer's sins. Third, "the believer is, in some sense or to some degree, still under the wrath of God" (19). If we are still being punished for our sins even though we are now believers, then believers are still under God's wrath and punishment. When Dr. Gaffin's teaching is brought to it's logical conclusion then it becomes obvious that he does not actually believe that Christ fully bore all our punishment for our sins.
Dr. Gaffin's ideas are totally antithetical to Scripture. The Bible proclaims many times that Christ saved us from punishment for our sins. Revelation 1:5 teaches, "Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood." Second Corinthians 5:21 reveals, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." John 3:16-18 teaches those who believe in Christ are no longer under condemnation, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1-4). Dr. Gaffin would like us to believe that Christians are still under some condemnation, but Paul clearly states that there is absolutely no condemnation for believers in Christ.… Mr. Cunha sums this up nicely, "Through faith alone, Jesus' perfect, all sufficient righteousness, His perfect life of obedience under the law and his sacrificial, atoning death on the cross, is imputed to the believer. Through faith in Jesus Christ all penal consequences for sin are completely removed and a title to Heaven is secured. Through faith in Jesus Christ, God's wrath is removed and his acceptance received" (19). Therefore, when a person is saved and becomes a Christian he is no longer under God's wrath, but is instead completely free from condemnation.
Are We Justified By Faith and Works?
In the Scriptures, James teaches that faith without works is dead, but does that mean that we are justified by both faith and works? Are works a necessary ingredient in justification? Dr. Gaffin once again gives two contradictory answers. At first, he denies that "works are the ground or basis of a believer's justification" (30) and affirms that works are the fruit of true faith. However, he goes further on to say that in justification, works are "the integral fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith" (28). By adding the word integral, he is implying that works are essential and not simply evidential in justification (30). Mr. Cunha remarks, "According to Dr. Gaffin's view, faith and works are constituent parts of a faith/works complex that is necessary to obtain justification…. This goes beyond the traditional Protestant view that works are only evidential or declarative with respect to justification" (29). Dr. Gaffin seems to believe that works play an important role in a believer's justification. Mr. Cunha also observes, "although he explicitly says that works are not (co-) instrumental with faith in the appropriation of justification, it is implicit in his teaching that works have some degree of instrumentality in securing justification" (30). This view can have serious ramifications. Mr. Cunha remarks, "If works produced through faith are in the smallest degree beyond purely evidential of justification, it follows that they must be, to some degree, either the ground or instrument of justification" (30). When that happens, we are no longer relying on Christ to save us. Instead, we are depending on our own good works for our justification. Mr. Cunha explains how this would occur, "When works produced through faith are connected to justification in a way that is beyond purely evidential, the practical effect will be to direct a sinner to produce good works through faith in order to obtain the acceptance of the Supreme Governor and Judge of the Universe" (31). Therefore, Dr. Gaffin is teaching that justification depends on both Christ and oneself.
The Bible tells a different story. Romans 4:4-8 say, "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.'" In this passage, works have no place in justification. In fact, works are a hinderance and counted as debt. This is in agreement with Isaiah 64:6 which says, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." All our good works are useless in attaining salvation. We need the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, which we can only receive through faith. Romans 5:1-2 shows, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God."… Mr. Cunha wrote, "The Bible teaches that justification is by faith alone, apart from works. The meaning is that faith is the alone instrument of justification. The ground of justification is Jesus' perfect life of obedience and his sacrificial, atoning death on the cross. By faith, Jesus' perfect righteousness is imputed or credited to the believers account for justification" (33). Christians are saved by faith alone. In the life of a believer, works are solely the manifestation of his faith. Works have no place in justification, they are completely incapable of justifying anyone. Only faith in Jesus Christ can justify us.
Is There an Absolute Antithesis Between the Law and the Gospel in Justification?
Is there an absolute distinction between being justified by the law and being justified by the Gospel? Obviously, there is some difference between the two. Being justified by the law entails perfect obedience to all of God's laws. While on the other hand, being justified by the Gospel means having faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But are these two concepts distinct or do they blend into each other? Dr. Gaffin wrote, "the antithesis between law and gospel is not an end in itself. It is not a theological ultimate. Rather, that antithesis enters not by virtue of creation but as the consequence of sin, and the gospel functions for its overcoming. The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer" (38). Dr. Gaffin's comment seems rather nonsensical from the viewpoint of being saved by faith alone. The Gospel does not remove the antithesis, it actually strengthens the antithesis. Mr. Cunha adds, "Understood properly, there is no need to move toward an end of removing an absolute Law/Gospel antithesis in the life of a believer because the Law/Gospel antithesis applies to justification only" (43). Any removal of this antithesis results in a justification by works, because justification by the law requires good works. Dr. Gaffin's goal seems to be to entail good works with justification because he thoroughly denies the absolute antithesis of the law and the gospel. Also, in a lecture on the book of Romans, Dr. Gaffin stated, "The doing of the law, as that is the criteria for all human beings, again, believers as well as unbelievers…eternal life depends on and follows from a future justification according to works. Eternal life follows upon a future justification by doing the law" (55-56). Here he seems to be saying that there is no difference between being under the law or being a Christian, but that both the believer and unbeliever work for their salvation under the law. Dr. Gaffin's view of justification totally ignores the perfect sacrificial work of Jesus Christ and promotes the frightful idea of each sinful imperfect individual working to perfectly satisfy the law for his own salvation. Mr. Cunha summarizes, "If works are made partially instrumental in justification, a man's own works, along with faith, become the prerequisite for securing title to Jesus' works as the ground for justification…. This is the dreadful result of any attempt to synthesize, even to the smallest degree, the Law means of justification and the Gospel means of justification" (86-87). If any part of justification depends on one's own effort, then the focus of salvation is no longer Jesus Christ but ourselves.
The Scriptures show a distinct difference between being under the law and being under the Gospel. Romans 3:19-20 say that it is impossible to be saved under the law, "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin." Justification by our own obedience to the law means that we would have to perfectly obey all God's commands. James 2:10 teaches, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." God's standard of righteousness is absolute perfection, we are fallen creatures who are predisposed to sin. We could never fulfill His standard of righteousness. Romans 10:3-4 show that we are saved not by the law but by Christ, "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.' But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith.' Yet the law is not of faith, but 'the man who does them shall live by them.' Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree')" (Galatians 3:10-13). Romans 3:21-26 clearly shows an absolute distinction between the Law and the Gospel, "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." … The law condemns, it does not save. Christ saved us from the condemnation of the law. He perfectly obeyed all God's commands and bore the punishment for our sins. Therefore, there is a total antithesis between the Law and the Gospel in justification. Mr. Cunha wrote, "[T]he Bible teaches an absolute antithesis between two alternate or mutually exclusive means of obtaining justification. Justification is either by our perfect obedience under the law or by faith alone in Christ alone…. There is no middle ground. The antithesis is absolute" (41). One cannot be saved through both ways. There is no grey area, justification can be either through works or by faith. Mr. Cunha explains, "The Bible teaches that there are two antithetical ways to obtain justification. The common denominator of both ways is a perfect record of righteousness under the law. Justification can only be attained through our own perfect course of obedience or the perfect course of obedience of another" (71). Humans are unable to perfectly obey the law, therefore we can only be justified by the Gospel alone.
In conclusion, Dr. Gaffin with his extra Scriptural teachings has made the Gospel of no effect. Although he will say that Christians are saved by having faith in Jesus Christ's sacrificial death on the cross, a closer examination reveals that Dr. Gaffin actually teaches that Jesus did not fully save us from all punishments from our sins, that faith in Christ is not enough to justify us in God's sight, and that there is no absolute distinction between being justified by the Law or the Gospel. These teachings are dangerous because they go directly against what the Bible teaches. Only the Bible teaches the true way by which we are saved. Dr. Gaffin is leading people down a false path of justification which does not direct them to salvation in Jesus Christ, but instead to a hard life of working for their salvation which is impossible for us to achieve. Dr. Gaffin is downgrading an important issue that affects all people everywhere. Mr. Cunha wrote, "The Biblical doctrine of justification addresses the all important question of how a sinful human being can pass from a state of condemnation to a right standing with the judge of all the earth" (10-11). This problem concerns all people everywhere because we have all sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are all sinners who deserve God's wrath and judgment. Therefore, we all need to know the right way to become right with God. Justification is not a doctrine to be taken lightly, it is at the very heart of the Gospel. Therefore, any theory that undermines the Scriptural teaching of justification by faith alone, needs to be addressed and overthrown.