Sunday, July 15, 2007

Declaration #9: Justification and Works

The final declaration of the PCA's Federal Vision Report states:

"The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called 'final verdict of justification' is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards."
Proponents of the Federal Vision argue that, while initial justification is based solely upon faith (though often redefined, unconfessionally, as faithfulness), the final verdict of justification, issued on the last day, will be based upon works. Building upon the metaphor of the white robe, Rich Lusk writes:

"[I]nitial reception of the white garment is by faith alone; ongoing possession of the garment is maintained by faithful obedience.... Their 'whiteness' before the Father's throne is due solely to his death and resurrection. In this sense, the robes stand for initial justification. But this forensic justification cannot be separated from the good works that make the saints worthy of their new apparel. In other words, the poetic imagery points in the same direction as the theological prose of Paul (Rom. 2:13) and James (2:14ff): those who will be vindicated in the end are those who have been faithfully obedient" ("Future Justification to the Doers of the Law," emphasis added).
The Westminster Standards, quite to the contrary, teach that we are "justified... not for anything wrought in, or done by, [us]" (WCF XI.1). Not even "faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience" can be said to be the ground of our justification, but rather "the imputation of the obedience and satisfaction of Christ" (WCF XI.1). Though there will be a final judgment, its "end" is "the manifestation of the glory of [God's] mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate" (WCF XXXIII.2). On the last day, the righteous will be "openly acknowledged and acquitted," and will then participate in the judgment of the wicked (WLC 90).

Confessionally speaking, "justification" refers to God's verdict concerning his people, expressed in the present, grounded upon Jesus' work imputed to them by faith alone. Though the elect will be judged "according to their works" on the last day, this judgment is not intended to determine whether or not they will be saved, but to vindicate them before the reprobate, "openly acknowledging and acquitting" them. Reformed theology has always distinguished between justification and salvation, with good works being necessary for the latter, but never for the former.