Jack Miller on the State of Condemnation Before the New Birth and Saving Faith


Affirmation 3: I affirm my conviction that the Scriptures clearly teach that before the new birth and saving faith all men are in a state of condemnation.

Thirdly, I affirm my conviction that the Scriptures clearly teach that before the new birth and saving faith all men are in a state of condemnation.

All men are born sinners, and all men are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3, ESV).

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We are all under the curse of the law, and must be ransomed by grace from that curse through Christ’s becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:10-13).

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— . . .

The whole intent of John 3:16 and its immediate context is shaped by the teaching that God in love gave His Son to redeem men — who were all under condemnation and the sentence of death.

Even the elect as sons of Adam are under condemnation: before their conversion they are under the divine wrath as other sinners.

As evidence for this conclusion we learn in 1 Thes. 1:10 that Jesus is the One who “delivers from the wrath to come.”

. . . and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

From the context nothing could be clearer than that Paul is referring to the elect (1 Thes. 1:4).

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, . . .

Even the chosen of God stand in need of being delivered from the wrath to be revealed in the Final Judgment.

But why underscore the universality of God’s condemnation of men?

Wasn’t the point treated rather fully already?

Perhaps. But my particular concern here is the tendency in modern Reformed circles virtually to exclude either the elect or the children of the covenant from the divine wrath against sin.

Whether this exclusion is based upon a careful line of reasoning or is simply an intuitive sense of what is, it can flow from a number of presuppositions.

Among these is the notion of an eternal justification.

The idea is that the elect being in Christ were justified in the counsel of God from all eternity.

Once you’ve accepted this idea, then it may become pretty hard to take seriously the Scriptural teaching that the elect are in a real sense under God’s condemnation before their regeneration and conversion.

Others have made the case for two justifications for the elect: an active and a passive justification.

As I understand the thought of active justification it means that the elect have through their union with Christ a justification which delivers them from a state of condemnation prior to their actually receiving Christ.

Later they receive Christ by faith as the ground of their passive or declarative justification.

With respect to children born within the covenant there has been the same tendency to exclude sinners from the divine condemnation.

Early in the century in the Netherlands it was even officially concluded by the Reformed churches that children born within the covenant are presumed to be regenerate until they prove otherwise by their conduct (Decretals of Dordrecht).

More recently here in the U.S. it has been held that by virtue of their baptism we are to view covenant children as belonging to Christ not only in a federal or representative sense but also as full participants in the life of the covenant.

Apparently they are thus viewed as Christians.

Although I have not seen the implications of this view spelled out fully, it appears to me that the implications are that covenant children are not really under condemnation and wrath because of their baptism and covenant standing.

What I am concerned to do here is not to describe the view of any particular person but to speak to a trend or even a mind-set.

What I see is a pattern that reminds me in some of its features of the European state church mentality.

As I understand this state church outlook, the thought is that all who have been baptized belong to God, that men are born Christians and not reborn as Christians.

When this point of view is carried through consistently, it appears to me that you have practically lost the necessity of conversion.

I believe that it was pastoral concern over this problem which led the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism to speak of “true conversion.”

I am of the opinion that they added the word “true” to conversion or repentance to underscore that mere membership in the visible church does not guarantee conversion to God and a deliverance from a state of wrath (Questions 20, 21, 60, 88).

Question 20. Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?

Answer: No; only those who are engrafted into him, and, receive all his benefits, by a true faith.

Question 21. What is true faith?

Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?

Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

Question 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion of man consist?

Answer: Of two parts; of the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man.”

If men do not see themselves as under wrath and condemnation, then how can they see any necessity for a passage from death to life?

In saying this, I am not arguing every one brought up in a Christian home must know the hour of his first exercise of saving faith and repentance.

But I am saying that he must know that he has passed from being under condemnation of the law to a state of grace by faith in Christ alone.

Jack Miller, Justification by Faith in the 20th Century (unpublished), December, 1978, pages 8-9.

Editorial note for context: Affirmation #3 is 1 of 9 affirmations regarding Justification in this essay written to aid Jack in thinking through more positively his thoughts on the Justification Controversy at Westminster Seminary from 1975-82 surrounding Professor Norman Shepherd’s 34 Theses on Justification.

You will find all nine of these affirmations located here:

Reformed Doctrine and the Depression from Pac-Man Sanctification by Jack Miller

Now I want you to hear the true Reformed doctrine. I’m hammering away at this true Reformed doctrine because I want you to understand your foundations, your roots a little better.

In the Reformation, what was the big thing that they were fighting about?

They were fighting about this passage [Galatians 5:6]. The contention with the best Catholics, not talking about the wild-eyed legalists, but I mean the men, the high Catholics, those who believe in salvation by grace.

What was the argument over it? Well, you can find it in John Calvin’s Institutes in that beautiful section on justification.

He says that this is the issue. He says that the issue isn’t simply whether you enter into justification by faith. He says that’s true. He says many of them will say that too.

But he says that the real issue is your ongoing relationship, your permanent relationship with Jesus Christ. Is that by faith also?

Is the bond of that state of justification forever faith alone?

Calvin says it is.

It must never be that you appear before God in your own name, with your own works, even come out of your own sanctification and say, “God forgive me because I have done these good things.”

Calvin’s point is that when you do that you’re severing yourself from grace. John Owen said the same thing. I believe it is in either chapter 6 or chapter 7 in his great work on justification.

The point I want you to see is this — we’re going to hold on here for a minute and think about this.

The thing that is so easy to miss is the intensification of truth.

If you level it all out, it tends to fall into bits and pieces.

It’s not all level.

Predestination is foundational. It is because unless God chose you, your will is still on the throne, you chose him. How can you ever be secure. You put one little brick in the house of salvation, you can pull it out.

So you’ve got to have these great foundational truthes and what is related to it is the glory of God.

These are banner things.

Justification by faith is “one” of the banner things.

The reason it is — it always says Christ alone is my righteousness. It always points you away from yourself. It always says Jesus alone. Jesus period.

The minute you begin to get sanctification in your mind bigger and bigger and more important and sometimes even in great sermons on sanctification, you wonder why you are a little depressed afterwards.

Anything that leads you to yourself is going to depress you. Now there is enough that leads us to do that.

I don’t mean that we preachers shouldn’t do that sometimes. It is constructive to be depressed sometimes. I found depression very helpful many times. Sometimes not. But I think the thing is this, we don’t want to cultivate depression. It’s only something that should be used as a vehicle to getting us closer to Christ.

Do you understand what I’m saying then?

But I do believe this — if you look at your own sanctification, and you look at it and you look at it, you can’t help but be depressed.

So what you need to say is that justification is then; it’s not just one doctrine, sort of like train tracks. Here is one parallel track that’s justification. Here’s another parallel track, that’s sanctification. You can keep the train on both.

Well, there may be a little bit of truth to that figure of speech but not much.

You might [also] say, “Well, it’s a little bit better to say the first step in salvation is justification, adoption and then sanctification and glorification.”

But that really isn’t the way to put it.

The way to put it is — justification is the foundation and lies under adoption, sanctification and glorification.

Because you have this foundation which is all of Christ, everything else issues from this.

They are not all equal. This is the foundation.

But if you start making them equal, the other doctrines will start eating it up and the problem with Catholic thought is that it eats up justification with the Pac-Man of sanctification (Jack laughs).

The thing that I’m trying to say to you then is no matter how feeble you may think that you are, you get the idea that it’s always, always [be clear] of the foundation, these great foundations like justification.

You get a hold of those then there’s a kind of inspiration in that. A kind of total humbling; always nothing of you, always all of Christ.

Then you are willing to take the risks that go with going with the gospel.

Jack Miller, Primacy of Faith, p. 26-28.

Editorial note:

Since I often run across “Union with Christ Champions” who caricature Jack Miller and Sonship arguing that Jack either didn’t understand union with Christ, or had a truncated view of it, it seems to me a brief explanatory note is in order.

Notice the title and page number of the transcript from which this blog post was derived.

“Primacy of faith” and pages 26-28.

I suppose I could have posted all 28 pages. It is certainly worth reading closely.

For Jack, “faith” is always “faith in Christ,” or better “faith in union with Christ.” Union with Christ, like predestination and justification by faith, is one of those “banner doctrines.”

In the middle section of this essay “Primacy of Faith,” Jack explains how he uses Galatians 5 in discipling new believers.

Jack notices the close relationship Paul draws between faith and the Spirit: Gal. 5:6 “faith working by love” is easily changed by Paul when he says “the fruit of the Spirit is love.” Elsewhere Jack highlights how Paul interchanges faith and the Spirit in Galatians 3, and John 7, almost as if they are synonyms.

Why does Scripture do this? Because faith and the Spirit have in common that they both unite us to Christ with faith being the human side and the Spirit the Divine side of that union.

So that justification is, and always is, “by faith alone” in union with Christ.

Jack refused to countenance any sense of either eternal justification, or the addition of any works, including love, in justification.

He says in this essay, “faith equals God working by love.” God get’s all the glory, we partner in fellowship with the Spirit who bears the fruit of our having been united with Christ.

Jack had anticipated how the Norman Shepherd Controversy, and what he called the “new Reformed orthodoxy” lying behind it, used biblical theology and covenant continuity to diminish and confuse Scripture and WCF’s clear articulation of justification by faith alone.

However, I think Jack died prior to hearing how some would later replace Shephedism with a highly nuanced biblical theology of “union with Christ” in a similar attempt to “level out” Reformation justification today. Again progressive sanctification (often in the name of obedience, against a straw man of cheap grace) is overemphasized resulting in that same “covenantal dynamic” being forwarded. This “new Reformed orthodoxy” has the tendency of immobilizing the church and binding the consciences of Christians thereby stealing the joy and freedom the gospel powerfully brings to disrupt our natural “me-centeredness” enabling us to be self-forgetting and actively love God and others.

For Jack, justification, adoption and sanctification could never be separated because they were through our faith union with Christ. To separate them is to attempt to separate Christ. Nonetheless, though they couldn’t be separated, it was vital that these glorious doctrines of grace be distinguished.

And in distinguishing without separating, Jack also insisted that they were not all to be “leveled out” as if they were equal.

With respect to obedience, what Jack wanted most of all was to get these great truths of the gospel out of the classroom and into the streets; out of the head and into the heart — to bring us all under the power of the gospel for the sake of every member ministry in making disciples.

This is how the original Sonship track, with its emphasis on justification and sonship, functioned in the Leadership Training Series both at New Life Church and World Harvest Mission.

Editorial note by Mike Graham, November 20, 2016.

“Listening is Another Way of Saying, ‘I Love You.'”


The crown of the whole thing was your obvious growth in your ability to listen. I know that could sound like a put-down compliment. But it is not at all.

My belief is that comparatively few leaders in the church today are really sharp listeners. I know I have an ongoing struggle with listening, especially when issues are being considered that are very important to me. I get afraid that the wrong ideas will prevail. At such times I have an overpowering urge to talk rather than to ask questions and listen for answers from others. It seems supremely important that everyone be immediately brought to perfect clarity by my powers of illumination and persuasion.

Sometimes what makes this confusing for me is that the Lord has given me a measure of insight as a leader. I do have almost thirty years of experience in planting and growing churches. But my mistake is that I want to persuade now without first gathering in all the knowledge I need and do not see the importance of taking time to hear others, to learn from them, and to reveal my love with a sympathetic response to what they are thinking.

Really patient, attentive listening is another way of saying “I love you and respect you.”

Not listening or half-listening is contrariwise, my saying, “I have a much higher view of my opinions than I have of yours.”

Expressed in that bold way, my not listening is exposed as egocentricity, perhaps even hardline pride. 

Once Dave Powlison gently admonished me, “Jack, you are a born persuader as a leader. It’s a good gift, but persuasion should follow listening and asking questions. Give balance to your leadership by delaying your persuading until you have had time to ask questions and to listen closely to the answers.”

I could agree with that in principle and did not have so much trouble applying it to meetings where issues were not major.

But when the concerns being considered seem foundational to me, it is hard for me to listen closely, or to refrain from breaking into someone’s speaking. I feel a compelling need to get the problems and lines of thought into clear focus now. It’s almost as though I try to act as the head of the church.

I know that may sound pretty silly. Who, after all, is so stupid as to think he can replace Christ as Lord over the church and its mission?

Still the history of the church has very few pages that are not blotted by the megalomania of church leaders.

It is simply that we are prone to fall in love with our own authority as official leaders and unconsciously distance ourselves from Christ as the real Head of the church.

We begin to try to control the church or the members of the team and end up in personality conflicts with brothers and sisters who either dislike our control or want to impose their own control upon us.

When this happens, we are inwardly swept by anxieties. The irony of it all is that the more we try to control the work in our own name, the more the work and its problems control us. We begin by trying to own the work of God and end up with the ministry owning us. Perfecting the work becomes our bondage, and the bondage manifests itself by our losing the capacity to patiently listen to others and to be corrected by them.

Indeed, when we get into this perfectionistic frame, we can fall into some very nasty bondages in our leadership. We hate criticism, we get preoccupied with trivia and are willing to fight major battles over minor issues. We feel threatened when anyone disagrees with us or introduces an idea that is unfamiliar.

I once knew of a church situation where a pastor and his associate gradually developed such a rotten relationship that more than once they beat on each other with their fists!

So I want you to join me in having confidence in our human depravity as leaders.

Do not be surprised to find your corruption expressing itself in perfectionistic self-will in your own leadership style. Expect to encounter in yourself defensiveness, dominance, and poor listening practices.

But I also urge you to have a much greater confidence in Christ’s capacity to release you from such bondages.

He is the crucified Head of the church, the only One who knows how to perfect it! Just to know that fact, to rest upon it, and to build upon it, is to be released from the bondages which duty imposes upon our spirits.

You find His liberating grace through honest confession of sin and fresh release by surrendering the government of the church to its Head.

Excerpt taken from Letter by Jack Miller to Alan written Feb., 1986. You can find the letter on page 136 of “Heart of a Servant Leader” by Jack Miller.

Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of Discipleship


Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller[T]he theological leadership of the conservative church has done a poor job in establishing the necessary link between justification by faith and discipleship.

For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).

Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.

Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you…

View original post 668 more words

“On Weaknesses of Typical Seminary Graduates” — Thoughts by Jack Miller


A good deal of the impetus for the [Leadership] training program came out of dissatisfaction with the seminary/Bible school model of training for service.

The strengths of a seminary/Bible school model are largely intellectual. These strengths include extensive exposure to Scripture, textual criticism, and Greek and Hebrew, sytematic theology, and church history.

The weaknesses are too many ideas and truths given too quickly and sometimes superficially, without a sharp focus on the unifying power of the gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The other critical weaknesses include a minimal interest in prayer and learning to work together as teams.

I do not mean at all to suggest that everyone who attends seminary is tainted with every weakness I shall mention.  I am only talking about what is common enough to be said to be virtually typical.

The typical seminary graduate has these serious problems and often does not know he has them:

1. In a formal sense he likely has his doctrines straight. But his thinking about biblical truths lacks sharp focus.  Why? Because of lack of understanding of the majesty, power, simplicity, and joy found in the gospel!  And because of a failure to apply to himself concretely to the uncompromising demands of God’s holy law and to be broken by the exposure of his radical self-centeredness!  Often the graduate is a man who sees himself as a repairer of the walls of the city of God but fails to see that his own walls are broken down.

2. He likely has a pretty hazy idea how his ideas apply to life and has not wrestled seriously with learning to communicate biblical truth with divine clarity, power, and concreteness.

3. He likely will see himself as a corrector of others without being awakened to the supreme importance of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6 that we are to be correcting ourselves first. He may evidence more of the self-protectiveness that goes with pride than the openness that goes with the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit.

4. He may not know how to control his own tongue or how to guide others in controlling theirs. He may have no idea whatsoever about working through conflicts in the church and how to engage in constructive conflict.  The idea of spiritual warfare conducted by fervent prayer may well be virtually unknown to him. Why should it not be?  Charles Hodge’s large three volumes on Systematics has a section of more than 300 pages on the means of grace, and of these 300 pages only 17 are devoted to prayer, and the quality of these 17 pages is not up to the fine quality of the rest of the volumes!  A spiritual disaster for training to have that kind of embalance in a valued text for theological training!

5. He will be typically inexperienced and un-humbled through his working only with students. He will easily assume that the church is mostly a classroom.  His ignorance of small group and congregational dynamics will be massive and he will likely have little idea how dangerous this is.  Only a few seminary graduates that I have known had any idea that there is such a thing as congregational dynamics.

5. The net effect is that he is likely to be self-protective rather than seeing his whole Christian life as one of a son who constantly engages in repentance, both tasting of its sorrows and its joys.

Against this background, at the beginnings of New Life Church we strongly emphasized the congregation as training ground in prayer, repentance, and witness.

Reflections by Jack Miller in “Training and Mobilization: A New Form of Education.”


Justification by Faith in the 20th Century: Nine Affirmations


As I process research and writing for “Cheer Up! A Biographical Study of the Life and Ministry of C. John “Jack” Miller,” important documents (and audios) by Jack remain unpublished; documents that, in my estimation, are keenly insightful, prophetic, and could greatly bless and aid the church of Jesus Christ today.

Today, I’ve spent almost all day typing a 40 page essay by Jack Miller entitled “Justification by Faith in the 20th Century.”

This essay was written by Jack in December of 1978 at a turbulent time in our culture, in the church, and particularly at Westminster Theological Seminary, which was then immersed in a theological quagmire over justification by faith that had already lasted three years, continued until 1982, and arguably is alive and well (or not so well depending on your perspective) in the church today.

I’m not going to unload all 40 pages on you in this blogpost. With what I’ve gathered thus far in research and writing, I’m fairly convinced a study on Jack Miller and his treatment of “Justification by Faith in Union with Christ” is a research project/book that is waiting to happen.

For those of you who may be uninterested in an older theological debate, or presume you are a Christian because you walked the aisle of a church, were baptized, had a feeling, said some religious words of commitment, or have tried sincerely to be a good person and keep the commandments — this debate regarding justification by faith alone, which is as old as the Garden of Eden, is something, whether you realize it or not, you desperately need to hear about.

Trust me! For your well-being, joy and happiness now and eternally, you need to wrap your arms around, or better yet, by faith have Jesus Christ wrap His loving embrace around you with this glorious legal reality of justification by faith alone with respect to remission of sins and acceptance with God, and you will find it is bursting with relational relevancy.

And for those Christians who have left their justification by faith somewhere back there in the past, moved on to other salvation  benefits, and are grinding out this Christian life on your own with only a vague recollection of “Continuance in Justification,” and/or you have no idea what this heavenly declaration means to your life today, we do need to get together so we can talk about some of what Jack has been teaching me on this subject.

However, in this blogpost, I wanted to accomplish two things.

First, I want to wet your appetite by giving you just a taste of only some of what I’m finding from Jack Miller.

All that I’m finding couldn’t possibly make it into a biographical study without it being a 1000 pages. Nonetheless, it is essential that I at least draw attention to it in some introductory way.

This will help me and others gauge the future interest with respect to what further Jack Miller research and writing should follow next.

Second, because I’ve regularly heard what I know to be unfounded criticisms that Jack was “Lutheran-leaning” or more like “German Pietists,” basing this misguided assertion on the way he “over-emphasized justification” without awareness of the ongoing justification controversy at WTS, I thought it would be helpful for you and others to set before you what Jack himself has to say.

You won’t see much in this particular paper about sanctification (though other papers do address that topic) since the focus at the time was directed to justification. However, Jack will conclude this essay by talking about James 2 and Justification, as well as Justification and the Last Judgment.

You will notice, under “Affirmation 5, I’ve cut-and-pasted parts of what I’ve spent today typing from this unpublished working document Jack left for us to benefit from. Hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed curating it from research.

Nine Affirmations by Jack Miller concerning Justification by Faith

Affirmation 1: I wish to affirm that it is my conviction that justification by faith has as a foundational presupposition a consciousness of the majesty of God and the absolute demands of His justice. (Page 3)

Affirmation 2: I wish to affirm that the cure of our disease lies in a personal encounter with God’s law and the conviction of sin which arises from that encounter (Romans 7:9-11). (Page 4)

Affirmation 3: I affirm my conviction that the Scriptures clearly teach that before the new birth and saving faith all men are in a state of condemnation. (Page 8)

Affirmation 4: I wish to affirm the fundamental distinction between a legal promise and a gospel promise. The contrast is developed with fine clarity in Calvin’s treatment of justification in The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Ch. XVIII. (Page 9)

Affirmation 5: This gospel promise 0f Justification is received by faith alone.

Content of Affirmation 5: 

In the Reformed tradition, this “alone” has been called “the exceptive particle.” This faith alone is synonymous with the expression “without works” or “apart from works.” It means that we are not trusting in a legal promise for our salvation [see Affirmation 4]. Such faith abandons the works of the law in order to trust in Christ alone for acceptance with God.

When we meet the expression “without works of the law” (Ro. 3:28) we should understand that Paul is further protecting the Christ alone (3:20-22). Here the language “without the works of the law” is attached to faith in order that faith will not be construed in some way as a new work blurring the ground of our justification, which can only be Christ.

So what is being said here in Romans 3:28 is that faith alone, or faith without works, is simply the equivalent of Christ alone. Faith in its receiving character is not attempting to fulfill [the legal promise of] Leviticus 18:4-5; instead it is abandoning all claim to self-justification and laying hold of that which lies outside of the man, even Christ and His merits.

For this reason I believe that it is a serious mistake to say that works may have a part in declarative justification. This may be done with all sincerity on the plausible basis that works may have a place in justification provided that they are not understood as meritorious or as the ground of our pardon and acceptance with God.

Editorial Note: Jack has inserted a handwritten page entitled “Insert on p. 13” and directed where it is to be inserted in the essay.

In summary, I wish to say that I can admire the pietist zeal to check the presumption of easy-believism by stressing the necessity for sincere faith in salvation. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century godly pietists did this by placing weight on the right kind of faith. So far so good. But the danger is that this right kind of faith (sincere faith) will mean at least that you as a sinner are expected to work to prepare before you come to Christ (see Norman Petit, The Heart Prepared).

But when you do that, I fear you may have moved in the wrong direction of justification by faith plus works. James Denny put the issue in these challenging words:

“The German pietists, in opposition to a dead orthodoxy, in which faith had come to mean no more than a formal recognition of sound doctrine, spoke with emphasis of penitent faith, living faith, true faith, obedient faith, and so on. It is somewhat against qualifications like these that they are foreign to the New Testament. What they come down to in practice is this: Before the mercy of God in Christ in propitiation can be available for you, O sinful man, you must have a sufficient depth of penitence, a sufficiently earnest desire for reconciliation and holiness, a sufficient moral sincerity; otherwise grace would only minister to sin. But such qualifications do infringe upon the graciousness of the gospel . . .” (The Death of Christ, pp. 290-91).

End Editorial Note.

For this reason the Westminster standards do not speak of faith in its justifying function as “obedient faith” or “working faith.” To be sure, faith which justifies is going to be faith which works and obeys. But in the justification of the ungodly that is not its function.

Rather, its unique office in declarative justification is to abandon all human righteousness and to receive and rest on Christ alone as justifier.

Calvin says it like this: “when you are engaged in discussing the question of justification, beware of allowing any mention to be made of love or works, but resolutely adhere to the exclusive particle.”

I see little reason to dispute over a term like “instrument” if a better one can be found. I personally prefer the word “means” or some more popular language like “the eye that looks to Christ” or “the empty hand that receives the gift of Christ.”

Yet whatever terminology is used, the main point must be upheld — which is that faith is the sole means by which we enter into union with Christ, the union which gives us our free justification as sinners. 

On the divine side, our regeneration brings us into union with Christ. But the human part in establishing this union is faith alone. 

There is nothing else. It is the sole doorway by which I enter into the house of salvation and receive Christ and all His glorious benefits, including justification. 

Therefore we may not say that faith and non-meritorious works both function as the means or instrument of justification. If we were to maintain this view, we would take away from the unique role that faith performs in our justification. That function is to receive Christ, something works can never do, no matter how you describe them.

Given these conclusions, all of us in the Reformed tradition ought to agree that teaching such a concept of faith and works (as instruments of justification) would constitute an offense against biblical doctrine.

As well, faith must always be seen as prior to justification in the order of the application or redemption. Temporally, faith and justification take place at the same time, but since faith functions as the unique means for bringing us into the state of justification it follows that faith has a priority. It is the priority of means.

There have been times when I have doubted the importance of this distinction. But I have seen that such a priority is inherent in the very idea of the open empty hand which takes hold of Christ, and faith is the way one lays hold of Him.

Therefore, I am persuaded that this is a matter of importance just because it protects the humble character of justifying faith. Our salvations begins not with our effort, but in our taking a free gift.

This is confirmed by Scripture. In Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 the prepositions translated “through” in relationship to faith imply that faith comes first as a means of our justification.

We conclude then that God from all eternity decreed to justify His elect, and Christ died for their sins on the cross and rose again for their justification, but it is still true that they are not justified until they first have believed in Jesus Christ and His righteousness imputed to them.

There is no such thing as an eternal justification nor is there any such thing as an “active justification” which precedes this declarative once-for-all justification. Justification does not come to sinners until they have entered into applied union with Christ through faith in Him.

I say this strongly by way of loving challenge. If I am wrong on this point, then I would like to see the Scriptures which shows that there is an “eternal” or an “active” justification prior to justification by faith described in Romans 3 and 4.

Affirmation 6: I wish to affirm the vital power of saving faith. So far, I have been focusing on its unique role in God’s act of justifying the ungodly. In such a discussion, I refuse to give any place to talk of love, works or obedience. It does not belong here. In this context the work of faith is that of a hungry mouth. (Page 15)

Affirmation 7: I affirm that it is my belief that Galatians and related passages in the New Testament draw a sharp distinction between the Mosaic covenant and the new covenant. But I am of the opinion that in our time we are seeing the emergence of a new kind of “Reformed orthodoxy” which reads biblical history primarily in terms of “covenant continuity.” (Page 19)

Affirmation 8: I affirm my conviction that declarative justification as set forth in Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2 and 3 is a definitive act of God’s grace on behalf of the ungodly. (Page 24)

Affirmation 9: I affirm that declarative justification properly understood does not cancel out discipleship but makes it a reality. (Page 29)

Taken from “Justification by Faith in the Twentieth Century” (unpublished), The CJM Manuscript Collection, The PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, MO. (40 pages), December, 1978.

“In Me” cover by Molly Graham (Photo at age 4, Voice at age 9)


Recently, three things happened leading up to Molly’s musical debut on my Grahamline Blog.

  1. I learned how to convert audios from old recordings (e.g., tapes) to mp3.
  2. James, my youngest son, introduced me to “The Voice” (e.g., that is where I learned the meaning of “cover” as in a song by Rebecca St. James performed by Molly Graham. How about that?
  3. I stumbled across an old cassette of my youngest daughter singing.

Taken together, I am starting my own version of “The Voice” and asking you to vote Molly through the blind auditions directly to the finale where she will receive a music contract recorded on the Graham Family Label with other old recordings from my kids (e.g., like Mary Helen standing on a table when she was very young belting out Whitney Houston).

Molly will be home from Erskine College this weekend. What a great way to greet her; allowing her to enjoy this delightful MP3 on her drive home to see me, which I’ll text to her just after publishing this post.

As a side note to all my kids, who I fully expect to be extremely nice to me, their mom, and their grandparents in the present and take care of us very very well in our retiring old age years.


Over the last several years, I’ve learned how to chase down, collect, research and archive personal historical information fairly well.

As you can see from this post, I also know how to make that personal historical research social media ready so the whole world can enjoy its seeing the light of day.

And you also know how your mom loves to keep everything even if she may not know where it is.

To top it all off, as a preacher and at least amatuer student of culture, I am aware how vitally important managing your public image is for your generation, and even worse, controlling that related and overwhelming fear of public embarrassment, especially in front of your friends and school mates.

So, enjoy listening to your sister’s wonderful solo of “In Me” with me and so many others.

Of course, it would be better should you “honor your father and mother” for gospel reasons motivated by love. After all, it is the first commandment with a promise, and I delight in giving good gifts to my children.

However, Jesus is far more gracious than I am, and I’m not above resorting to more sordid and manipulative methods of achieving my objectives.

Remember Hoopla! (e.g., family secret that can’t be mentioned in public).

With much love, your Dad!