Text: Acts 16:16-34
I. The issue: how can a sinful man be justified in order to stand before God? "How can a man be just with God? The answer given to this question decides the character of our religion, and, if practically adopted, our future destiny. To give a wrong answer, is to mistake the way to heaven. It is to err where error is fatal, because it cannot be corrected. If God require one thing, and we present another, how can we be saved? If He has revealed a method in which He can be just and yet justify the sinner, and if we reject that method and insist upon pursuing a different way, how can we hope to be accepted?" Charles Hodge
II. The answer: faith in the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Acts 16:31, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 2 Cor. 5:21, For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
III. The importance of words.
A. Faith (pistis): "The assent of the mind to the truth of what is declared by another, resting on his authority and veracity, without other evidence. In theology, the assent of the mind or understanding of the truth which God has revealed." Webster's 1828 Dictionary
B. Believe (pisteuo): "In theology, an assent of the understanding to the truths of the Gospel." Webster's 1828 Dictionary
IV. Justification by faith alone during the Reformation.
A. "This doctrine of justification by faith is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour." Martin Luther
B. "This, then, is the amazing definition of Christian righteousness. It is the divine imputing or accounting for righteousness because of faith in Christ or for Christ's sake. God accounts and acknowledges him as righteous without any works who receives His Son by faith alone." Martin Luther
C. "The safety of the church depends as much on the doctrine of justification by faith as human life does on the soul. If the purity of this doctrine is in any degree impaired, the church has received a deadly wound." John Calvin
D. "Whenever the knowledge of justification by faith is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown." John Calvin
E. "The theme of justification is the main hinge on which religion turns, so that we devote the greater attention and care to it. . . Justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God's sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man." John Calvin
V. Justification by faith alone in the Reformed confessions.
A. "To speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He hath done for us and in our stead, is our Righteousness." Belgic Confession 1561
B. "God, for the sake of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long; but will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only." Heidelberg Catechism 1563
C. "Christian faith is not an opinion or human conviction, but a most firm trust and a clear and steadfast assent of the mind, and then a most certain apprehension of the truth of God presented in the Scriptures." Second Helvetic Confession 1566
D. "Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous: not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God." Westminster Confession 1648
E. "Question #77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ? Answer. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection." Westminster Larger Catechism 1648
VI. Justification by faith alone during the Puritan era.
A. "We are justified, not by giving anything to God, - what we do, - but by receiving from God, what Christ hath done for us." William Gurnall
B. "We acknowledge no righteousness but what the obedience and satisfaction of Christ yields us: His blood, not our faith; His satisfaction, not our believing it, is the matter of justification before God." John Flavel
C. "Walk humbly. Ye are justified, but it is by the righteousness of another. Ye are pardoned, but it was procured to you by the satisfaction of a Saviour. Your debt is paid, your discharge is got up; but thanks to free grace, not to you, for it." Thomas Boston
D. "Indeed this is one of the greatest mysteries in the world--namely, that a righteousness that resides with a Person in heaven should justify me, a sinner on earth." John Bunyan
VII. Justification by faith alone during the 19th century.
A. "He who refuses to be represented by another before God must represent himself and draw near to God on the strength of what he is in himself or what he has done." Horatius Bonar
B. "By the righteousness of Christ Paul means Christ's legal status, or the merit acquired by all that He did in satisfying the demands of God's law, including what has been called His active and passive obedience. . . The gracious character of justification consists for Paul in the fact that the righteousness on the ground of which God justifies the ungodly is a righteousness which is graciously provided by God, and which Paul contrasts with his own righteousness which comes from law works (Philippians 3:9). The sinner, therefore, is pardoned and accepted as a righteous person, not on account of anything in himself, but only on account of what Christ has done for him, which means that the merits of Christ's suffering and obedience are imputed to the sinner as the ground of his justification." Caspar Hodge
C. "Now, what flesh and blood cannot do, that Jesus Christ by His redemption did. Here I stand, the sinner. I am condemned to die. God says, 'I will condemn that man; I must, I will—I will punish him.' Christ comes in, puts me aside, and stands Himself in my stead. When the plea is demanded, Christ says, 'Guilty;' takes my guilt to be His own guilt. When the punishment is to be executed, forth comes Christ. 'Punish Me,' He says; 'I have put My righteousness on that man, and I have taken that man's sins on Me. Father, punish Me, and consider that man to have been Me. Let him reign in heaven; let Me suffer misery. Let Me endure his curse, and let him receive My blessing.' This marvellous doctrine of the changing of places of Christ with poor sinners, is a doctrine of revelation, for it never could have been conceived by nature." Charles Spurgeon