Monday, February 18, 2019

An Overview of Doctrine

How then can a man be justified before God? How can one born of woman be pure?” (Job 25:4).

The doctrine of justification by faith was restated in its original form during the Protestant Reformation. To understand the timing of this doctrine, we will today briefly review the overall history of Christian doctrine.

After the close of the canon of Scripture and the passing away of the apostolic generation, the church focused in on the most fundamental of all truths: the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, the opening centuries of Christian history saw debate after debate until the church came to a magnificent consensus that Jesus Christ is “very God of very God” and at the same time fully human. The two natures of Christ—one uncreated and the other created—are perfectly joined but not merged. This doctrine is based on the fact that according to Genesis 1 the creation did not emerge from God as part of His being but was created by His free action outside of Himself.

Once the difference between the Creator and the creature had been firmly fixed in the doctrine of the dual natures of Christ, it was no longer possible to believe that salvation was by some kind of mystical re-merging with God, which was what the early heretics purported. Rather, salvation had to be conceived as a restoration of a personal relationship between God and humanity. Accordingly, the next issue taken up by the church concerned the work of Christ.

Since the creation is distinct from God, man cannot merge into the being of God. The problem between man and God is not a matter of distance, but of rebellion. Thus, with Augustine the doctrine of man’s depraved hatred of God came into focus; and after him, with Anselm, the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, which repaired this ruptured relationship.

Now that the objective nature of the work of salvation had been laid out in the doctrine of the Atonement, the next natural question was how we receive the benefits of that work. Do we earn the right to receive the benefits of the Atonement or do we receive it simply by faith? Before the Reformation, the church had not always been clear on this point, but the Reformers saw clearly that salvation was by faith alone.

Luther said justification by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or falls. It is also the article upon which you stand or fall. Read Romans 4 to reaffirm the biblical basis of this precious doctrine.