Affirming justification by faith alone according to the Westminster Standards

In this document I state (with other Reformed pastors):

We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active, and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer.

The reason I affirmed this statement was because I had already done so in my ordination vows related to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Catechisms. In addition to affirming that faith is God’s gift, and the sole instrument of justification, I affirmed a description of this faith as “living, active, and personally loyal.” This is what the Bible and the Reformed Faith affirms.

In Chapter 11, paragraph 2, the Westminster Confession summarizes the Biblical teaching that:

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

Notice that, in addition to claiming that faith is not alone in the person justified, the Westminster Confession goes on to describe the kind of faith that justifies. It describes justifying faith by two passages of Scripture.

1. “…is no dead faith…” from James 2:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

2. “…but worketh by love.” Galatians 5.6:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

So, according to the Westminster Confession, only a faith that works by love, and produces works of love, is a true faith, and thus a justifying faith. That is precisely what I understand as ” a living, active, and personally loyal faith.” I don’t know of any other construction that could possibly be put on the words.

God wants us to trust his son alone for justification. When we trust our own works or any other thing or person for our justification, we are, by definition, being unfaithful and disloyal to him. We see how distrust is disloyalty, among many other examples, at the end of John chapter 6:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Related: The triune God is the archetype of all covenant relations

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