Justification: A Pastoral Perspective -- By: Douglas R. Shivers

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:4 (Fall 1997)
Article: Justification: A Pastoral Perspective
Author: Douglas R. Shivers

Justification: A Pastoral Perspective

Douglas R. Shivers

“Pastor, I’ve been in church all my life and I’ve never heard anyone preach about....” (You fill in the blank.) Sound familiar? People tell me they’ve never heard preaching on election, predestination, and human inability. I’m not surprised. But when they tell me they’ve never heard of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, I’m appalled! If this is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls, then the church is viewing life from a prone position.

If justification can be removed, misunderstood, or at least relegated to obscurity, Satan succeeds. The gospel is lost. What we are left with is “works religion” which damns souls forever, or a subjective, infused grace, which keeps believers confused and frustrated. Our people have no grasp of such texts as Hebrews 10:14, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” As Calvin says, “Unless you first of all grasp what your relationship to God is, and the nature of His judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build piety toward God.”1

Although so many say they’ve never heard a sermon on justification, most evangelical churches and denominations confess the doctrine. They just don’t give it preeminence. As evidence I cite the confession of my own Southern Baptist Convention. In Article 5 of The Baptist Faith and Message, we read: “Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer into a relationship of peace and favor with God.”2

This two-sentence treatment of justification is subsumed under the general heading of “Regeneration.” This approach confuses inward renewal with an external, legal declaration. It also fails to directly connect the sinless life of Christ and

His atoning death directly with justification. Though I’m not questioning the commitment of the authors of The Baptist Faith and Message, I am questioning the wisdom of reducing our doctrinal statement. Compare this dangerously brief treatment with two earlier statements from Baptists in America:

We believe that the great gospel blessing which Christ secures to such as believe in Him is Justification; that Justification includes the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life on principles of righteousness; that it is bestowe...

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