A Quote on the Importance of Justification by Phil Johnson
Justification by faith is unique, I believe, precisely because it distills the pure essence of everything else that is fundamental to and distinctive about Christianity.
Here's what I mean: A person can affirm the deity of Christ, give lip service to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, be very sound in all the basic points of Trinitarian doctrineâ€”and still come under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9 because he preaches a different gospel.
Someone could also affirm the virgin birth of Christ, have a solid grasp on the incarnation, believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ, and yet be one of those described in Romans 4:4 and Romans 9:32 and Romans 10:3 whoâ€”rather than trusting in Christ alone for justificationâ€”are seeking to establish a righteousness of their own by works. In other words, you can be basically sound on Christology or theology proper and unsound on the gospel. If so, believing the wrong gospel will damn you without remedy, regardless of how well-tuned your Trinitarianism is.
The converse is pretty hard to imagine. I've never met anyone who had a sound belief about justification by faith but who was unsound on Christology or Trinitarian doctrine. After all, if you affirm the principle of imputed righteousness, then you are almost certainly going to affirm the deity of Christ. Because the imputation of righteousness requires a perfect Substitute, with perfect righteousnessâ€”as perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect. The only Substitute who qualifies is a Christ who is also God. So the necessity of Christ's deity is practically built right into a sound understanding of justification by faith.
I realize there are probably exceptions to that rule, but it is a plain fact that every major denomination and creed that affirms sola fide also affirms the deity of Christ and all the other doctrines generally referred to as "fundamental." That's because all the fundamental doctrines of Christianityâ€”the incarnation, substitutionary atonement, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the truth of a Trinitarian Godhead, the doctrine of original sin and the fallenness of all humanity, the freedom of divine grace, and the authority of Scriptureâ€”are all linked in one way or another so that the better you understand this doctrine of justification by faith, the more sound you will be in all of your theology.
That's why if you were to ask me to name the one principle in all of theology that is most vital; the one doctrine that carries the most weight; the one conviction to hold most tightly; the one precept most important to handle with care and most vital to proclaim accurately; the one article of faith you need to master wellâ€”it would not be a difficult choice. It's the doctrine of justification by faithâ€”the Reformation principle of sola fide. This one doctrine encompasses the heart and soul of everything that is essential to Christianity, everything that is fundamental to our faith. The doctrine of justification by faith is the very life and nerve of the gospel itself.
- Dr. Phil Johnson