When Does Justification Take Place?
Question: Mr. Hendryx, is justification predicated upon our confession? Do we have to do something before were justified? Can this not be misconstrued as a work of man that God condescends to? Where in the order of salvation does justification occur in relation to a person's confession. When does it take place in a person's life. I'm trying to teach the ordo salutis and I am kind of stuck on this. Does justification come before, during or after a profession of faith in Christ?
Answer: Outstanding question. Lets be clear, it is Christ who justifies, not our faith. We boast in His grace to save, not our faith. But yes, the Scripture does assert that when the Holy Spirit unites to to Christ we appropriate the redemptive blessings of Christ (the alien righteousness) through faith. The Spirit uniting us to Christ and our faith are concurrant, yet it is the Spirit who illumines our mind, regenerates and unites to Christ as that which spiritually enables us to exercise faith. The texts, Acts 17:30 & 1 John 3:23, teach that we are commanded to repent and put our trust in Jesus Christ if we are to receive forgiveness. This, of course, does not imply the moral ability of the natural man to believe, so faith is not itself the cause of justification, but rather the grace of Jesus Christ is. We are justified, the text says BY GRACE through faith (Eph 2:8). Faith only takes hold of (appropriates) Christ and what He has accomplished. Grace is, therefore, ultimate while faith is only penultimate. Clearly the Bible specifically affirms that justification occurs at the same time we exercise faith (see Rom 3:28, Rom 5:1; Gal 2:16; Gal 3:8). So to answer your question, I believe a very good case can be made that justification actually occurs, in a historical sense, during a persons' confession (or belief). Justification, therefore, does not precede our confession. Prior to our confession, the Scripture says we were "by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph 2:3) There is indeed an experimental aspect to what Christ has accomplished for all time. Col 2:11-14 says,
"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.
But since faith itself is the gift of God (Eph 2:8, Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 2:25, John 6:65), and since man is by nature morally incapable to draw from his own resources to reach God, apart from the Spirit, then faith cannot possibly be misconstrued as a work of man. God must first disarm our natural hostility, that is ....work the grace of regeneration (the new birth) in us that we would see with new eyes and believe with a new heart .... so regeneration (which makes us spiritually aware) precedes faith (John 1:13; 1 John 5:1) and is actually what gives rise to faith and the desire to please God. Thus, faith is not something produced by the will of unregenerate man (Rom 9:16. John 1:13). As the Cambridge Declaration confesses, "faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature."
Some everyday examples of this could be understood as follows: A newborn baby has to breathe in order to live. Does this mean that the infant gave birth to himself? No, it does not follow. Lazarus obeyed the command of Christ to come out of the grave. Does this mean that he had the natural power to get up? Of course not. Jesus healed a blind man and he was able to see. Does the use of his eyes constitute a "cooperation"? No, because he could not have used his eyes unless Jesus did a supernatural work to change their very nature first. Can a farmer just throw seed on fallow ground and hope to have a full harvest? No, he must first plow up the fallow ground. Similarly, our stony heart will not believe unless they are first made flesh. We are commanded to believe and repent, and commanded to "come to Him" ... something we must do in order to be justifed in His sight ... but Jesus also says, "no one will come to me" (John 6:65). That is no one will come to Him UNLESS God takes the initiative to do something supernaturally or we would never have the moral capacity or desire in ourselves to do so. An unspiritual man does not engage in spiritual activity. We must first be born again. No where in the Bible is being "born again" spoken of in the imperative (or as a command). The new birth rather is something God does that we MAY believe. Flesh gives birth to flesh, Spirit gives birth to spirit, Jesus said. No one can see or enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again, according to our Lord.
So the objections you may receive from your study need to be answered by scripturally showing the nature of man in his unregenerate state. That is, he/she is a person who does not have the Holy Spirit. A man without the Spirit does not understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14). Our preaching will fall on deaf ears unless the Spirit accompanies the gospel to open the ears of deaf unbelievers. This is because we are naturally deaf to spiritual things. When objections come, ask simply if a person can believe the Gospel apart from the work of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Thes 1:4, 5).