Preaching Justification Undiminished
Basics Conference | Chagrin Falls, Ohio
Preaching the doctrine of justification from the scriptures in an undiminished way is my topic. I have been very exercised about this for about 10 years, and I’d like to begin by giving you about five reasons for why this has, in the last 10 years, been the doctrine that has most consumed me.
That wasn’t always the case. But it has been the case for these years, and I want to explain why and perhaps in the process alert you to things that are going on that you may not know about. And thus strengthen you to deal with them should they blow your way and be positive and constructive, so that we glory in this doctrine and don’t just hear about its controverted nature.
Five Reasons for This Message
One of the reasons is that eight of those years I was preaching through the book of Romans, and when you preach through the book of Romans, you bump into the doctrine of justification again and again, and then it’s applied for you. So I lived in Romans for eight years, and that has a certain effect on what becomes prominent in your thinking.
Second, I am surrounded at Bethlehem by apprentices and young men in our little institute who read more than I do. They’re smarter than I am, and they ask many hard questions, especially about cutting edge issues that they’re reading about and I’m not. You can only sit on the fence for so long in dealing with things like that, and then you have to give yourself to the one you think is most important, so I have been drawn into this issue.
A third reason why it has been so prominent is that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is increasingly embattled in our day, sadly. It is being confused, reduced, and contradicted. Let me list five of the ways:
1. The lines between evangelical faith and Roman Catholic doctrine are being blurred big time.
I could give so many illustrations, some of them coming very close to home. I think the Reformation was necessary, and I don’t think it’s over. And I think the lines between historic, never-abandoned, Roman understanding of justification, and the reformers — the Protestants, including me — are very significant and not blurry.
2. The doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is being flat out denied by evangelicals.
Two articles in Books and Culture that came out maybe five or six years ago simply blew me away. I was just so naïve because I was surprised a person would think this way and say, “It is not a biblical doctrine. Just stop talking about it” — referring to the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as part of our understanding of justification — and that they would publish it. This was a place for book reviews, not a platform for things like this. So I was just ticked off and wrote a book in response to those two articles called Counted Righteous in Christ.
3. The new perspective on Paul, especially as explained by N.T. Wright, has redrawn the map of New Testament theology.
This has happened in such a way that the confusion is very widespread concerning what justification is and how it relates to the gospel, conversion, and judgment in the future. The waters are very muddy for young men today in seminary, amazingly muddy, where they are reading broadly in these things and being thrown off their balance.
4. The fruits of faith and faith are being merged, so that the historic statement “by faith alone” is losing its meaning.
By what alone? Is faithfulness equivalent to faith? What we once thought was fruit from faith in that finished work is now not the instrument that’s uniting us to Christ resulting in that fruit, but that fruit is now merging with the instrument of faith itself that unites us to Christ so that faithfulness, a life lived, is now the instrument by which we are justified. It’s so muddy. If we asked, “Can we make the distinction between faith and its fruit?” Many would be saying, “No.”
5. The term righteousness, referring to the righteousness of God and the righteousness which we are in Christ, is being given meanings that historically it never had and is throwing people off guard.
So the righteousness of God would be very typically today considered to be the faithfulness of God — the covenant faithfulness of God. And once you see everything in that category, the old categories begin to crumble because you can’t talk in the same way. If someone says they have been counted righteous in Christ, and righteousness means only verdict in a courtroom rather than the actual lived-out obedience of another counted as ours, then they have denied the historic imputation of that obedience being ours, and we don’t need it because all we need is a verdict.
So those are five illustrations that are all over the place for those who are reading on the edges of what’s being done in our seminaries, schools, and many churches. And many of the representatives of these reconstructions are very compelling writers and very winsome people. So that was the third reason why I’ve been occupied with this doctrine because there’s so many different ways that the doctrine itself has been challenged.
A fourth reason it has held my attention is that I relate to this truth of justification by faith, understood in terms of the imputation to us of the righteousness that Christ perfectly lived out, very personally. I love this doctrine. I live on this doctrine. This doctrine feels to me, not only principally saving, but desperately saving, daily saving. It feels saving as it grabs me in the midst of the darkest night. It feels saving as it takes hold of me in the swell of an overactive conscience.
I’m not playing doctrinal games here. I’m not eager to write or preach because it’s the thing to talk about. I’m a fragile human being. I feel myself on the brink of eternity regularly, and I always feel unworthy of it. My conscience is always telling me I cannot measure up, which, of course, is a good thing if I have a line to hold onto of another sort than my faithfulness will really work it all out.
I feel very much in identification with John Bunyan. John Bunyan, in his mid-20s as you may know, was struggling tremendously with his own standing with the Lord, and he tells the story. I’ll just read to you how God broke in to get him beyond uncertainty to assurance. And of course, you know what that assurance led to — imprisonments, great sacrifices, and a great book.
One day as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: “Thy righteousness is in Heaven,” and me thought with all, and I saw with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ standing at God’s right hand. There, I say, was my righteousness, so that wherever I was or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, “He lacks my righteousness.” For that was just in front of him there. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame of heart that made my righteousness worse. For my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now did my chains fall of my legs. Indeed, I was loosed from my afflictions and irons. My temptations also fled away, so that from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God…
What he has in mind here are texts like those about Esau crying out for repentance and not being able to find it. He called that a dreadful text.
...those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me. Now I went home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.
I have known this. It is sweet to me to have the assurance that I need a perfect righteousness to stand before an all holy God, and I don’t have it in myself. Therefore, I must have it from another, and it must be counted as mine, not given to me as I measure up a little bit to provide part of it. It just must be totally counted as mine as I rest in it. And if that is taken away from me, no matter how hard these fellows try to tell me they’re putting in place something just as good, I don’t think it’s possible. And I will try to explain some of what they try to put in its place.
Now I’m aware at this point that many would say this fourth reason regarding why I’m so worked up about justification — namely, that it’s precious to me — disqualifies me from being a careful, objective, faithful exegete. Because if one so desperately wants this to be true, then one will just go looking for it in the Bible. They might say, “You are so absolutely sold out. You’ve got so much riding on this that you can’t be a faithful exegete anymore.” What do you do with that? Well, it may be true that I’m so sold out to it I can’t not see it even when it may not be there. That may be true. But there is another way to look at it, isn’t there?
A passion for a particular truth may not be a blinding passion but an eye opening passion. At least, I want to make sure the ground is level here before the accusations fly in a lopsided way. Let me read you a passage of Scripture where I’m getting this idea that a craving for a truth might be the means by which you see it, not the means by which you create it when it’s not there.
Listen to John 7:17. The passage states:
If anyone’s will [or desire] is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
Now what does that mean? It means, at least, that sometimes the ability to know something and to embrace it is there because you want it so badly. That’s what Jesus said. A will that is moving with God can see things in the Bible that those who want a distanced, dispassionate, disinterested objectivity may be totally blind to, so I’m not too swayed by this. I am cautious regarding these things, because I must constantly submit my brain to this book over and over again, lest I create things that aren’t there out of my own head.
However, as I look at the lay of the land and read church history, this book is just as often, and even more often, misinterpreted by those who don’t come craving what’s there but rebel against what’s there, postured as academic objectivity and distance from it. I would rather run that risk. So I could be biased, but to the person who makes that accusation I’m asserting that their position of neutrality, distance, and cool objectivity is just as dangerous as my passion. Let’s just both acknowledge that and then go to the text. And that’s where we’re going to go.
So far we have four reasons why I’ve gotten worked up about this doctrine. The first is that I preached through Romans for eight years. The second is that I have these guys around me constantly asking hard questions and making observations. The third is that there are all these ways it’s being reconstructed today. And the fourth is that I personally need it so badly. Now here’s the last one, and then we leap into some biblical teaching on it.
I’ve left the most important one for last. The main reason why I would give myself up to this, in view of the mission statement of my life — to spread a passion for the supremacy of God and all things for the joy of all peoples — is that I put everything through the sieve of how it will help me spread a passion for the supremacy of God through Jesus Christ. At this point, you might want to open your Bibles to Philippians chapter one, because you need to see it. And then we will start going into chapter one and three, which is where we’ll hit justification.
My biggest passion in life is to exalt Jesus Christ. In the way I live, speak, and write I want him to look great. I don’t want to be involved in anything that minimizes or diminishes Christ. That’s why I’m using the word undiminished in my title. Preaching justification undiminished means preaching justification in such a way that it doesn’t diminish the work of Christ. If Christ has not only become my punishment, but also has become my perfection; and if he is counted to me so that all my sins are punished, and all God’s wrath is removed; and he is given to me so that all my perfection and righteousness is provided, and then someone comes along and says, “This doesn’t exist,” when in fact it does exist, then the glory of Christ is halved. That matters to me a lot.
Diminishing the Glory of Christ
So let’s read Philippians 1:20. It says:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
I just love that sentence. That was the text I used 29 years ago as my first sermon at my church, just to show my people the reason why I was there. With my body, whether I live or whether I die, I want one thing: Christ magnified. And the word there for honor (Christ be honored) is the same word used in Luke 1:46 when Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
I just point that out because I like that idea of magnifying the Lord, not like a microscope but like a telescope. It makes Christ’s cross look like what it really is — the galaxy it really is. So what preaching ought to do is make the cross, the Christ of the cross, the effects of the cross, and the dynamics of the cross look like the galaxy that it is. And so, if waves come along that go right to the center and start pulling away the glories of the cross, I get exercised about it.
I get exercised because I’m going to meet him very soon, and I hope that with some measure of authenticity I will be able to say, “I tried to teach, preach, counsel, father, husband, and do everything to make you look great and not diminish your glory in any way.” The heart of the glory of God in Christ, as you know, reaches its climax at the cross.
Second Corinthians 4:4 goes like this:
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
So the gospel is the gospel of the glory of Christ, which I take to mean that when the gospel starts narrating the kind of person he is, the death he died, and the resurrection he rose to, it’s talking about glorious things, and we should do everything in our power to make that glory look as bright and full as it is. And so, I am driven by that passion to talk about the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.
So the ultimate impulse of this message and this 10-year preoccupation with the doctrine of justification is that I think the glory of Christ is being diminished by virtually all the contenders of the historical understanding of the doctrine of justification, and that the reformation basically got it right. They’re all on the same page on this, though you have to divvy them up among various denominations. They were all in the same place.
So I promote preaching justification undiminished for the sake of an undiminished Christ, an undiminished glory, an undiminished cross, and an undiminished gospel. I’ll mention three ways that it is being diminished and then we’ll tackle them. This will be the way the rest of the message is outlined. The work of Christ, the glory of Christ, and the cross of Christ in these challenges are being diminished because:
1) One of Christ’s great achievements is denied.
The fact that Christ has provided a perfection that gets counted as our own is simply being denied by many. They would say you don’t need it. If you have forgiveness of sins, you don’t need it. All you need is forgiveness of sins. You don’t need anybody’s righteousness. They would argue that the whole category is unbiblical. But in saying we don’t need it, a great achievement that Christ performed is being denied.
2) The deficiencies and defects of the human soul that are meant to be remedied by that achievement go languishing. This is my pastoral concern. I’ll come back to this near the end to show how practical this is as you deal with souls. When I talk to these people and try to describe to them that if we lose the imputation of Christ’s righteousness — our being counted righteous in him with his being counted as ours — something needy in the human soul doesn’t get dealt with. To this they always say, “No, no, no. You don’t need that. All you need is the forgiveness of sins and the removal of the wrath of God. What more would you want?” I’ll come back to why it is so practically sad to do that.
3) The fruit of love withers.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).
And we all know from Galatians 5:6 that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but only faith working through love — faith in something working through love. Love is the great outcome of this Christian doctrine. So then what happens to this goal if you begin to blur the line between the thing that grounds it and the thing itself? What if the thing itself, the faithful living out of love, starts to become the support of God being totally for you when, in fact, God being totally for you in Christ is the ground for that fruit? What begins to happen? You shoot yourself in the foot. You shoot yourself in the heart.
The very things that you are trying to lift in importance — namely, love, social action, environmentalism, global change, etc. — will die because you’ve tried to make them the foundation. You tried to make them more than they are, and in making them more than they are they will die.
So in light of the very things that so many of these guys are after, I’ll stay where I am. For the very longing that we’d be a loving church, the longing that we’d be a socially engaged church, the longing that we’d be an environmentally sensitive church, the longing that we’d care about global issues as well as individual issues — for that very longing I stay here, because we’ve already seen this. We’ve seen this 80-90 years ago. Have we not been here before? Read the early liberal defections of the PCUSA, or the Methodist church, or the UCC. Read the story from 100 years ago as to what was being said. It’s just happening all over again with new faces and new tricks of language. But it’s so sad.
So those are my three diminishings, and now let’s just tackle them one at a time in the time we have left.
A Concern for Christ’s Glory
If this doctrine is undermined, the fullness of the glory of the gospel is diminished. I am arguing that the achievement of perfect faith, perfect love, perfect power, perfect wisdom, perfect obedience to his father, because of our union with him through faith alone is counted as ours. I want to defend that from Philippians for just a few minutes, though there’s so many places we could go. So if you’re still there, why don’t you look at Philippians 2:6–8 first. Here’s the flow of the argument: In Philippians 1:20, Paul says:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
And I say, “Me too.” If we keep reading on into chapter two, he lifts up Christ here in Philippians 3:6–8, and he describes the obedience of Jesus in an unusual way. He says:
Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Now notice something really unusual here about Christ’s obedience in verse eight. Paul says, “Being found in human form,” which is at the beginning of the incarnation, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” Well, that’s a short story of a life. Being found in human form, he obeyed and died. That’s very significant.
So in Paul’s mind, when he’s just collapsing the story down into what the glories are, he says: God equal with God becomes man and, in humility, obeys even to the point of death. Then God raises him from the dead because of that faithfulness. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and given him a name above every name. Now I wonder if that rings any bells in your mind — that little summary of Jesus' life as he obeyed.
In Romans 5:18–19 there are some controversial words. I don’t think they’re that unclear. Let me read you those verses.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness (dikaiómatos) leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were [appointed] sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be [appointed] righteous.
Now the argument against this traditional understanding of verse 19 is that the one act of righteousness in verse 18, and the obedience of verse 19 refer only to the death of Jesus. And therefore, there’s no drawing attention to the fact that he lived a life of obedience in my place that I desperately need counted as mine. But if I read this against the backdrop of Philippians chapter two, where I hear Paul thinking out loud about the way he sums up the life of Jesus becoming man and humbly obeying unto death, then I see Paul viewing Christ's life from beginning to end.
That’s obedience. That is one great dikaióma, and I think that’s the way he’s thinking here. As one man’s disobedience gets counted as mine, and we’re all fallen in him, so now one man had to not only conquer one sin, but never fall with any temptation. And that sequence, from beginning to end, is totally successful in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have a disobedient Adam, and we have an obedient Christ. The one causes us to be counted sinners, and the other causes us to be counted righteous.
Every step he took, from the beginning of his life, he took toward the cross. So when people say to me, “Well, I think the obedience there is just his last act of obedience on the cross,” I say, “Starting when? Nine o’clock? How about before Pilate? When he got slapped around and did not retaliate, was that part of it?” And they say, “Well, I guess.” Then I add, “Okay. How about Herod? How about in the garden when he restored a man’s ear? What obedience doesn’t count here?” This diminishing is very sad.
So now we get to chapter three, back in Philippians. All that from chapter two was just to show that a backdrop of understanding his life, as a life of obedience from birth to death, from incarnation to crucifixion, really helps us understand Romans 5:19.
Now here he comes into chapter three. We’re starting to get to the really familiar verses. But before we get to Philippians 3:9, which is the big one, we really need to see the setup in Philippians 3:5 and following. Paul is exulting, so to speak, in his former achievements as a pharisee, a law keeping pharisee. He’s going to call all of this dung in just a minute. So let’s see what the dung is.
Starting in the middle of Philippians 3:5, he says:
As to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Now it’s crucial here to see the word righteousness because that’s going to be the keyword down in Philippians 3:9. And here it is, “As to righteousness (literally according to righteousness) under the law, blameless.” And notice it’s parallel — “according to zeal, a persecutor.” So according to righteousness, under the law, blameless; and according to zeal, a persecutor. So then, the natural meaning here is that, as his zeal was expressed in persecution, his righteousness was expressed in blameless behavior.
So righteousness has its normal, usual meaning. How you behave when you’re doing right things. It’s not complicated. It really does have the simple, basic meaning of doing something according to a standard — God’s standard. When you do something according to God’s standard, it’s righteous. It’s right and righteous. So here along the standard, as he understood it, he was blameless. And now he gets to Philippians 3:7–8:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
So he counts his righteousness according to the law, which was blameless, as worthless and rubbish. That’s very important to see. He was a Pharisee. He knew how to toe the line and keep the commandments, and he was blameless, but now he looked upon all that as garbage. Then comes Philippians 3:9:
And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own...
That’s clearly a reference back to Philippians 3:5–6.
Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith
There’s a big argument about whether the “faith of Christ” means Christ’s faithfulness. I don’t think that’s what it means. But if it meant that here, it would only help my cause, not hurt it. But I’m going to pass over that since it doesn’t damage it either way. I’m just going to take it traditionally.
So the righteousness that he claims to have now “in him” is not the righteousness that he’s counting as garbage — that’s his own. He’s getting rid of that. This righteousness, he says, he in some sense receives by faith in Christ. He has it “being found in him.” You see that phrase? He does not have a righteousness of his own, that was what he was doing when he was trying to keep the law. Rather, he now has a righteousness that comes from being in Christ.
Now let’s just make a few observations about this righteousness. First, it cannot mean a verdict. I’ve got people who argue with me that the righteousness we have is not a lived out obedience counted as ours, but rather it is simply the declaration in a courtroom that we are in a right status, and God can do that. He doesn’t need any imputation stuff in order to do that. It’s just a verdict. They would argue, righteousness means verdict. But that won’t work in this context.
When you read Philippians 3:6, which says, “according to righteousness under the law,” Paul is referring to his dikaiosynē (righteousness). That’s his righteousness. So in verse six, righteousness means someone’s behavior. Verdict won’t work here. It won’t work to say “not having a verdict of my own,” or “not having the status of acquitted on my own.” It is his verdict. It is his own. A verdict of acquitted would be his verdict.
What Paul is saying is that the record of his own behavior that he had up in Philippians 3:6 is worthless here, and therefore the righteousness that he has in Christ is like that. That’s what righteousness means in this context. Paul is saying he needs that kind of record of behavior, but his won’t work. So we have to be in him, and when faith attaches us to him, God’s righteousness in him is counted as ours now. It’s the flow from Philippians 3:5–9 that make this work for me, and help me understand what Paul means.
Another thing you can say about this righteousness is that it’s not Paul’s new, Spirit-empowered behavior — the righteousness of Philippians 3:9. So many people today are saying that the righteousness we need, of course, is not old legalism — self-reliant efforts to measure up. Of course not. They would say it’s the new spirit-empowered obedience. That’s what we need. That’s our new righteousness. Of course, they would say, it totally relies on grace, so it’s not like Roman Catholicism.
But that won’t work here either. This is righteousness that is from God in Christ and not his own. And the idea of “not his own” there means not his own anything. Paul is not saying he has his own Spirit-driven obedience now. He’s saying, “No, I don’t. I’m contrasting my old pursuit of the law, not with my new pursuit of the law by the Spirit, but by trusting another — by trusting God’s gift in Christ that I so desperately need.
The most natural way to understand the righteousness he speaks of here is the way he celebrated it in Philippians 2:8. So I’m drawing an arc back there, where it says:
Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And that is what we get, being in union with Christ as Philippians 3:9.
So Christ was perfectly obedient. We tried our best to be perfectly obedient, but that’s garbage. In Jesus Christ, we have a righteousness that is now counted as ours that we can only have by faith alone. Now Paul describes this in five or six different places in the New Testament. Let me just mention a few of them so that if you want to draw this out, you can.
We’ve already seen Romans 5:19 — appointed righteous because of one man’s obedience. Second Corinthians 5:21 says:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Again, Paul says “in him” God’s requirement of perfect righteousness is ours.
Also, Romans 4:6 says:
...God counts (or imputes) righteousness apart from works.
That is virtually the same as Romans 3:28, which says we are justified “apart from works of the law.”
So this diminishing of Christ, and of the cross, and of justification by saying we don’t need the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and it’s not even in the Bible, I regard as a great departure from the truth and from biblical faithfulness. It is damaging to the church and dishonoring to Christ. So that’s the first diminishing.
A Concern for Souls
The second diminishing is the pastoral piece. What do you say to a person who comes to you and says, “I find in my own relationship with God that forgiveness of sins is all that I need. I don’t need any of that talk of imputed righteousness because, if my sins are forgiven, then I am totally at peace with God and this thing you are insisting is an important part of the gospel is superfluous.” What do you say to that person? If they said, “What else could possibly contribute to me if my sins are canceled? How could there be any need in the church that forgiveness of sins couldn’t supply?”
My response to that person is this: Don’t be pastorally wiser than God. You may not be able to imagine the state of a human soul that would respond well to the imputation message and be rescued from suicidal lack of assurance when the offer of forgiveness was not helping, but this message did it. Who are you to say that God did not know the multifaceted pain of the human heart better than you do, and did not provide in the cross aspects of glory, aspects of provision that those hearts will need, that yours may not at the moment perceive as needing? Who do you think you are, if God has provided it? I personally need it. Psychologically, pastorally, I need it.
You don’t have to explain why. You guys are pastors. You know that you’ve tried various things on tormented souls, and when this thing or that thing didn’t work, this one hit home. This one did it. Why? The first two should have. It’s because God has provided a...what image shall we use? A diamond? When we just turn it all around we may be blind to some facets, but we see another one.
So when the cross is diminished, when you rob the cross of one of its achievements — namely the completion of a perfect righteousness that is then counted as yours through faith alone — when that is taken away, the church is going to be hurt pastorally. There are going to be psychological pains, psychological struggles with sin and lack of assurance that this doctrine was intended to touch and help that won’t have in your arsenal. That’s just one of the reasons why I hope you will stay with imputation.
A Concern for the Fruit of Love
Lastly, the third diminishing is how losing this doctrine affects love. The goal of all our ministry is love. We want to produce loving people. We’re not just about getting everybody psychologically at peace with themselves and God, and then let them fold their arms and sit in their little cubicles and enjoy peace with God while they let the world go to Hell. No, we want churches ready to lay down their lives for the world. We want them scattered all over the place, being the most radical, crazy, counter-culture, risk-taking lovers on the planet. Yes, that’s what we want. And you’ve got to decide what doctrines you can give up and still hope that that might happen.
And I’m arguing that what’s happening when you give up imputed righteousness is that a vacuum is created, and it just starts to fill with our behavior. And one of those big behaviors is love, and thus love is moved from its fruit status to its foundation, which it was never intended to be, and therefore it rots. It may take 80 years. I mean, name the mainline denominations. Name them. They are desperately trying to change the world. They have no gospel anymore. The cross is gone. The Bible is gone. The supernatural is gone. All they have left is that we’re supposed to love people. And guess what, they’re dying. They’re not evangelizing the world. That’s for sure. And the little bit of social ethic that’s holding them all together is gone. The roots are cut. They’re air flowers.
80 years is not a long time. I just don’t want us to go there. I’m not going to be around. Some of you will be. I just would like to be part of the trumpet call for the sake of love, for the sake of the world, for the sake of radical engagement with the issues of our time, even the hardest ones of all like the city. The urban brokenness of my city that nobody has answers for is a huge issue. I’d love to talk about Wilberforce here.
Wilberforce wrote one book called Real Christianity. And the book was a plea for justification. It was a plea in his day that the moralization of the Christian view would destroy itself, and that’s what’s happening. This has such big, flowery spokesmen today.
Of course, if you talk about global effects and love, it all sounds absolutely right because it is. But it’s being gutted from underneath because in the back pocket are the denials. They don’t ever get quite brought out — the denials of imputation. So, very simply, the third diminishing is the diminishing of love, the diminishing of justice, and the diminishing of our radical engagement with the world. And it’s so paradoxical because the very people that are most effective in undermining the historical doctrine of justification are the people who are living for those very causes. It’s so paradoxical and so tragic.
So brothers in the ministry, I am pleading with you. If all of this has felt like, “Whoa. I thought it was pretty obvious.” I’m glad you do, and I hope you stay there. But if you’ve been pushed around on this, if young guys are coming to you and feeding you stuff and wondering where you stand, I just want you to know you’ve got partners who believe that the old ways of Christ — not only becoming a glorious substitute for our punishment to absorb the wrath of God and cover our sins, but also a glorious substitute of perfection, righteousness, and obedience, enjoyed by union with him through faith alone, producing a life of radical love — still hold. It’s still biblical.