Given that the doctrine of justification is so primary to our joy and assurance in the gospel, it would be wise for us to give effort to grow in our understanding and clarity of what the Scriptures teach. For this reason, I am giving several posts to the subject of justification by walking through various paragraphs given to this in the 1689 Baptist Confession. Please read part 1 of this series here, for an explanation and setup of this post.
PARAGRAPH 2: The Issue of Faith
Faith that receives and rests on Christ and His righteousness is the only instrument of justification. Yet it does not occur by itself in the person justified, but it is always accompanied by every other saving grace. It is not a dead faith but works through love. — Confessing the Faith, Chapter 11.3
Paragraph two is concerned with the issue of faith. Firstly, the object of our faith is Christ, as we both receive and rest on him. This clarification is important, because the charge of “justification by faith” begs the question: faith in what? Faith in our response, faith in our behavior, faith in our faith? The confession is clear: it is a faith in Christ and His righteousness.
Secondly, the confession deals with the instrument of faith. Why is it that faith is the only instrument of justification? Mark Sarver explains it this way:1
We are justified by faith alone because this is the only method that is consistent with justification being by grace. We are “justified freely by his grace”(Rom. 3:23-24; Rom. 4:16). Receiving God’s righteousness by faith is opposed to earning it by works (Rom. 4:3-5; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9). God has chosen faith to be the instrumental means because faith is a self-emptying grace.
In essence, faith is the proper instrument because it ensures that justification is purely be grace. God justifies us by faith so that we might know that our salvation is for his glory alone, by grace alone and through Christ alone. 2
However, the confession is also quick to address the concern over a sort of faith that makes profession, yet continues in wickedness. The Scriptures are clear on this: living faith will always be accompanied by the fruits of saving grace. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17, ESV). It was the Reformer, Melanchthon, who addressed this very concern in this manner: “Faith alone justifies, but not the faith that is alone.” Above all, the confession seeks to uphold the bible’s teaching that faith alone is the instrument of our justification, but this faith is not alone as a saving grace.
- Mark Sarver. “The London Baptist Confession of Faith | Exposition of Chapter 11,” Herald of Grace, 09-29-2017, https://heraldofgrace.org/the-london-baptist-confession-of-faith-exposition-of-chapter-11/ ↩
- Sam Waldron. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Darlington, CO: Evangelical Press, 1999), p 161. ↩