Justification in Redemptive History -- By: Mark W. Karlberg

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 43:2 (Spring 1981)
Article: Justification in Redemptive History
Author: Mark W. Karlberg

Justification in Redemptive History

Mark W. Karlberg

Since the time of the Reformation, the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) has been recognized as the fundamental and determinative doctrine of the Protestant faith. It is quite understandable, then, in light of the importance of this doctrine that much of Protestant interpretation and exposition of soteric justification would be polemical in nature. After all, Protestants believed that the Church stood or fell, depending upon its adherence to or repudiation of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. In the history of Protestant dogmatic theology, there has been the tendency so to emphasize the sola fide character in justification that the full relation of faith and works to forensic justification at times has been unclear or obscure. During the course of the Reformation, increasing stress upon the absolute character of faith as the sole instrument of justification was necessitated by the erroneous teaching of Roman Catholicism. As the Protestants insisted, there could be no mixture of faith and obedience in the article of justification by faith in its primary, constitutive sense. Though justifying faith inevitably produces good works, so that faith and obedience are inseparable, faith is the alone instrument of justification. The term “instrument” is a scholastic word which simply serves to identify the manner in which divine justification is received. The term, though not found in Scripture, does not import any foreign or speculative notion into the biblical teaching.

Central to the Reformers’ doctrinal formulations are the teachings of the apostle Paul. Justification is apart from the works of the law. A man is justified by faith, not by works. The righteous man shall live by faith (e.g., Rom 1:17; 3:19ff; 5:1–21; Gal 3:1–18; Eph 2:8–10; and Phil 3:3ff). But what shall we say of James, who writes: a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (Jas 2:24)? And what of the epistle to the Hebrews, which is an extended exposition of this same teaching

found in James regarding the necessity of faith and obedience? It is frequently pointed out how Luther objected to the teachings of James and the author of Hebrews on grounds of apparent conflict with the Pauline teaching. As a consequence, Luther relegated these books (among others) to a lower status within the canon ...

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