Louis Berhkof on Justification by Faith Alone

In light of the current popular heresy called “Federal Vision” which teaches, among other things, that, contrary to what the Bible clearly states, we are justified by faith and our works of righteousness, and a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine about the nature of conversion and whether or not one can lose his or her salvation, I decided to post Louis Berkhof‘s succinct retelling of the historical and orthodox position on this matter.

He writes:

Justification is a judicial act of God, in which, He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner. It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification. While it has respect to the sinner, it does not change his inner life. It does not affect his condition, but his state, and in that respect differs from all other principal parts of the order of salvation. It involves the forgiveness of sins, and restoration to divine favor. The Arminian holds that it includes only the former, and not the latter; but the Bible clearly teaches that the fruit of justification is much more than pardon. They who are justified have ‘peace with God,’ ‘assurance of salvation,’ Rom. 5:1-10, and an ‘inheritance among them that are sanctified,’ Acts 26:18. The following points of difference between justification and sanctification should be carefully noted:

1. Justification removes the guilt of sin and restores the sinner to all the filial rights involved in his state as a child of God, including an eternal inheritance. Sanctification removes the pollution of sin and renews the sinner ever-increasingly in conformity with the image of God.

2. Justification takes place outside of the sinner in the tribunal of God, and does not change his inner life, though the sentence is brought home to him subjectively. Sanctification, on the other hand, takes place in the inner life of man and gradually affects his whole being.

3. Justification takes place once for all. It is not repeated, neither is it a process; it is complete at once for all time. There is no more or less in justification; man is either fully justified, or he is not justified at all. In distinction from it, sanctification is a continuous process, which is never completed in this life.

4. While the meritorious cause of both lies in the merits of Christ, there is a difference in the efficient cause. Speaking economically, God the Father declares the sinner righteous, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies him.

Systematic Theology, pp 513-514 (Eerdman’s Publishing Co. 1996)

Amen & Amen

The Federal Vision heresy is not new but finds a prototype, I believe, in the Judaizers of Paul’s day who attempted to subject believers in Christ to the law in order for them to be saved. Adding the works of the law to the Gospel was and is heresy. Paul makes this clear in Romans 4 and the entire epistle to the Galatians.

-h.

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6 thoughts on “Louis Berhkof on Justification by Faith Alone

  1. Heather says:

    You couldn’t possibly know how badly I need to be reminded of this wonderful bit of Good News!

    While I haven’t got a clue as to what Federal Vision is about, I am certain I’ve heard teaching that was influenced by it’s particular understanding of Scripture. Have wondered whether it is based on a misunderstanding of James’ writing concerning good works being the evidence of a living faith…

    It recently occurred to me that the book of Hebrews may also address this issue when the writer warns against the neglect of “so great a salvation” and assures readers that there remains a Sabbath rest for God’s people.

    Anyway, the full justification apart from works aspect of the Christian faith is something I can get my mind around. But I think my brain must leak because I have a hard time holding on to it.

    Then, the Lord taps my shoulder and asks, “What part of ‘It is finished’ do you not understand?”

    Simple belief that His word is completely trustworthy goes totally against the prideful human desire to prove myself worthy.

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  2. Heather says:

    I finally got around to checking the FV link you have here. The article was a little over my head but I had a couple questions.

    In this covenantal system of theology, the covenant is seen as being between God and man–with certain responsibilities laid on man as a matter of “maintenance” of his end?

    I’m assuming this is why there is such a strong emphasis on things like infant baptism and communion as signs of covenantal union?
    Just trying to better wrap my mind around this way of thinking.

    A while back it occurred to my husband that Genesis 15 demonstrated that God the Father and God the Son are the two parties in the covenant (v 17) and Abram wasn’t even conscious when the fire and smoke passed between the halves of the animal. I expect a similar theme could be noted with the various other progressions of the second covenant?

    If this is an accurate understanding, then the Man Jesus did all that is necessary to fulfill man’s obligations. Our role is incidental and all we need to do in order to be saved is to believe God in the same manner as did Abraham (and Noah and David…) yes?

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  3. Heather says:

    Thanks, Hiram.
    I think it helped clarify the problem with Federal Vision.

    Reading on reformed sites like that one tend to make me nervous, though, because my husband and I are both of a Baptist background and whenever infant baptism as a sign/seal of the covenant is discussed, I sometimes wonder if our waiting til our kids make a verbal profession of faith is sin on our part.

    As an infant, I was baptized Catholic even though my Dad had not been practicing for quite a while. His family’s priest refused to do it because my dad hadn’t been a faithful enough participant over the preceding years. so my parents asked another who was actually on his way out of the system. The RCC taught them that unless the proper baptismal ordinances were followed, eternal salvation is a pipe dream. Apparently, my dad’s soul had already been handed over to the enemy and the punishment for his sins were to be visited on his children. I’m a little suspicious of the practice, regardless of the explanation of why it is being done.

    Craig isn’t really against infant baptism. He just hasn’t yet found Scriptural mandate for it and doesn’t want our kids to grow up thinking they are saved because someone poured water on them when they were little… That seems to happen a lot in some groups :(

    It can be frustrating to want to obey, yet not have the conviction of others concerning what true obedience looks like. Then the panic rises over whether I believe God or am just playing religious head games. It’s exactly that brand of insecurity which pushes me to try to prove I’m redeemed by engaging in the “right” types of activities.

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  4. Hiram says:

    I’m with you on infant baptism. I honestly don’t see Scriptural grounds for it, but I think that it is a secondary issue. Clark believes what Scripture teaches about salvation: It is of grace and not by grace + works.

    The other details regarding infant baptism are an in-party discussion, seeing as the FV proponents claim to hold to many of the same creeds. What I like about Clark is that he is upholding historic Christianity, although we can differ about the method of baptism and the method of administration regarding the sacraments.

    “It can be frustrating to want to obey, yet not have the conviction of others concerning what true obedience looks like. Then the panic rises over whether I believe God or am just playing religious head games. It’s exactly that brand of insecurity which pushes me to try to prove I’m redeemed by engaging in the “right” types of activities.”

    I understand completely. What I fall back on is this truth exactly: We are justified by faith ALONE, and works will ensue. Does the Word of God have high standards for believers? Of course it does, and it should! God is holy; how could we be otherwise?

    But “still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” If we are good soil, i.e. regenerate believers, we will bear fruit :) He also says: “If you continue in my Word, you are My disciples indeed.”

    I try to rest upon those truths :)

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  5. Heather says:

    You re-decorated!

    I’m with you on infant baptism. I honestly don’t see Scriptural grounds for it, but I think that it is a secondary issue. Clark believes what Scripture teaches about salvation: It is of grace and not by grace + works.

    I’m okay with having a different understanding of such issues as infant baptism and can appreciate that not every believer is in exactly the same place on the learning curve. Just didn’t realize until recently that it is a non-negotiable for some. We all have to live according to what we understand of Scripture and I wouldn’t want to destroy another person’s faith in Christ just to be able to win a debate about that. I can also understand the need to distinguish historic reformed theology from the teachings of Federal Vision. It’s odd how Wilson was cited as having been Arminian before moving into the quasi-reformed camp.

    Maybe, deep down, we are all “Arminian” in believing there is anything we can do to make ourselves presentable to God? It seems as though that is the default attitude I take when I’m not focused on what Christ has done and why He did it.

    What I fall back on is this truth exactly: We are justified by faith ALONE, and works will ensue. Does the Word of God have high standards for believers? Of course it does, and it should! God is holy; how could we be otherwise?

    But “still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” If we are good soil, i.e. regenerate believers, we will bear fruit :) He also says: “If you continue in my Word, you are My disciples indeed.”

    I try to rest upon those truths

    Thanks for the reminder :)

    Appreciate the dialog, Hiram.

    Like

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