10 “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:10–11)
Justification by faith alone was the issue at the Jerusalem Council. The matter at stake then was the same dispute which provoked the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The question was on what basis does God declare the sinner righteous? This remains an issue of supreme importance.
Martin Luther was converted when God brought the truth of the Gospel, contained in Romans 1:16-17, to Martin’s soul. Romans 1:16-17 says, “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Justification refers to a legal action by God by which He declares a person just in His sight. The Protestant view is often described as ‘forensic justification,’ meaning that justification is a ‘legal declaration’ made by God.”
It was this biblical understanding of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, and the Roman Catholic Church’s rejection of the same, which prompted Luther to nail his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. This act, and the accompanying response to Luther’s concerns expressed in his theses’, ignited the Reformation.
Justification by faith alone is the doctrine that the righteousness by which God declares sinners just before Him is not inherently their own, or achieved by their good or religious works. Rather, it is the righteousness belonging solely to Jesus Christ, which is imputed, or credited, to the sinner solely through the God given instrument of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Therefore, this righteousness is an alien righteousness. It is a foreign righteousness. It is a righteousness apart from the sinner. Again, this righteousness is imputed and credited to the sinner by faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
Underlying justification by faith alone, is the doctrine of grace alone. The entire motivation for God justifying the sinner by faith alone is the prior doctrine of God’s sovereign grace. God does not justify the sinner on the basis of any work the sinner could do. Rather, justification by faith is on the basis of God’s sovereign grace alone (Ephesians 1:3-14) and His acceptance of the good work which Jesus Christ alone accomplished on the cross.
In addressing the officials at the council, the Apostle Peter strongly spoke that preaching any other Gospel, other than justification by faith alone, was putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that would be unbearable. Peter then proclaimed that Jews and Gentiles are both saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Justification by faith alone declares that God has pardoned the sinner from the debt, slavery, guilt and enmity of their sin. This was the yoke Peter of which Peter spoke. God has not only declared the sinner righteous but also has freed the sinner from the penalty, power and eventual presence of sin.
On this Reformation Day, the words attributed to Martin Luther continue to ring with biblical truth; “Justification is the article by which the church stands and falls.”
A biblical church preaches justification by faith alone. An un-biblical church does not.
Is your relationship with God on the basis of grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone? Any other belief system is not the Gospel. Reaffirm your trust, dependence, commitment and worship of Jesus Christ today.
Happy Reformation Day.
Soli deo Gloria!