by Mike Ratliff
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4 ESV)
Most, if not all, of the contention that I have experienced in this ministry has to do with people’s demand to be “justified” on their own terms. For instance, one fellow angrily told me that the genuine gospel was to do good works, to feed the hungry and minister to the homeless. Another one insists that all he has to do is love God and love everyone and that is how he experiences “salvation.” There are others who insist that Christians are to live the Gospel rather than being concerned about preaching the message of it. Are these valid forms of the Gospel?
Dr. James White wrote that the heart of the Gospel is “Justification.” He said, “The word [Justification] should bring to mind “the gracious act of God the Father through the perfect work of Jesus Christ whereby I have been pardoned and made right before God!” It should be a personal word, a thrilling word, a word filled with rich meaning. For many, by God’s grace, it is. And by that same grace, it always will be.”1
Martin Luther wrote, “[Justification is] the chief article of Christian doctrine. To him who understands how great its usefulness and majesty are, everything else will seem slight and turn to nothing. For what is Peter? What is Paul? What is an angel from heaven? What are all creatures in comparison with the article of justification? For if we know this article, we are in the clearest light; if we do not know it, we dwell in the densest darkness. Therefore if you see this article impugned or imperiled, do not hesitate to resist Peter or an angel from heaven; for it cannot be sufficiently extolled.“2
When the Gospel is preached biblically, God-Centered rather than Man-Centered, then those God supernaturally regenerates will believe. They have saving faith. (Ephesians 2:1-10) As a result God justifies them.
‘You are justified only when God the Father, based upon the meritorious work of Jesus Christ in your place, declares you to be so upon the exercise of the gift of faith. This faith is directed solely to the God who “justifies the ungodly” (NASB). To be justified means to be declared right with God by virtue of the remission of sins accomplished by Jesus: Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer, and the believer’s sins are imputed to Christ, who bears them in His body on the tree. Justification is from beginning to end a divine action, based upon the mercy of God the Father and the work of Jesus Christ the Son.’3
After a new believer is justified by faith, God sanctifies them. What is sanctification? Sanctification is to be removed from sin, to become separate from it. Both Justification and Sanctification are actions of God’s free grace. All who are justified will also be sanctified. The act of removing a believer from sin is God making each believer experientially holy and conformed unto the image of Jesus Christ. They are made more like Him through spiritual growth by and in the grace and the knowledge of Christ. We clearly see the uniqueness of Justification and Sanctification in the following passage.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 ESV)
This passage tells us that our Justification is the grounds and basis of our peace with God. That means that is clearly a past action in relation to our Sanctification. Justification is a declaration by God that happens once and is done forever. However our Sanctification is what we experience for the remaining length of our lives.
As a result of genuine salvation, which is the result of the working of the God-Centered Gospel, believers, having been declared righteous by God, are now able to fellowship with Him. Here is part of the passage I placed at the top of this post.
3 ὃ ἑωράκαμεν καὶ ἀκηκόαμεν, ἀπαγγέλλομεν καὶ ὑμῖν, ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς κοινωνίαν ἔχητε μεθʼ ἡμῶν. καὶ ἡ κοινωνία δὲ ἡ ἡμετέρα μετὰ τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. 4 καὶ ταῦτα γράφομεν ἡμεῖς, ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ ἡμῶν ᾖ πεπληρωμένη. (1 John 1:3-4 NA28)
3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 ESV)
Genuine believers, having been justified by faith, have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. The word fellowship in v3 above translates the Greek word κοινωνία or “koinonia.” This word literally means “partnership” or “participation.” This would be impossible without God’s declaration of righteousness for He is Holy and perfectly Righteous while we are imperfect and sinful people as the result of the fall. (Genesis 3) Therefore, the effect of the Gospel in salvation is Justification, which enables and establishes a relationship between God and people who are now new creatures by His grace. They are actually joined together in Christ by faith as the sons of God. Notice the fellowship starts between God and those whom He saves then it joins together all believers as sons of God in Christ.
Sadly, there is a rampant problem in the church of the 21st Century. It has departed sound doctrine and has melded marketing techniques with a man-centered gospel. This “other” gospel starts with people and their need to “go to heaven.” Since there is no mention of the need for sinful people to be justified in order to be reconciled to God who is Holy, people are told to pray a sinner’s prayer and become part of a local “church” then be religious. Since the gospel they hear is man-centered it is powerless to save anyone. Why? There is no need of grace in the man-centered gospel. It is all a matter of will power. It is a decision. It is an act of man’s will. Salvation is seen as a reward for making that decision. There is no mention of being reconciled to God nor is sanctification given any emphasis. Because of this and the fact that repentance is never mentioned in the man-centered gospel, these unregenerate professing Christians or nominal Christians have no spiritual power to become removed from sin.
5 Καὶ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἀκηκόαμεν ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναγγέλλομεν ὑμῖν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς φῶς ἐστιν καὶ σκοτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν οὐδεμία. 6 Ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι κοινωνίαν ἔχομεν μετʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐν τῷ σκότει περιπατῶμεν, ψευδόμεθα καὶ οὐ ποιοῦμεν τὴν ἀλήθειαν· 7 ἐὰν ἐν τῷ φωτὶ περιπατῶμεν ὡς αὐτός ἐστιν ἐν τῷ φωτί, κοινωνίαν ἔχομεν μετʼ ἀλλήλων καὶ τὸ αἷμα Ἰησοῦ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ καθαρίζει ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ πάσης ἁμαρτίας. 8 ἐὰν εἴπωμεν ὅτι ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔχομεν, ἑαυτοὺς πλανῶμεν καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν ἡμῖν. (1 John 1:5-8 NA28)
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:5-8 ESV)
The Greek word for “light” here is φῶς or “phos.” This word refers to light that is not kindled nor put out by men such as the light of the Sun. In a spiritual sense it refers to joy and peace with God. To walk in God’s light is to live one’s life in fellowship with Him thereby being Spirit-filled and walking in repentance. The Greek word for “darkness” here is σκοτία or “skotia.” It means dimness or obscurity. It carries with it the idea of unhappiness or ruin. In a spiritual sense it refers to the consequences of sin. To walk in darkness, therefore, would be to continue in sin and suffer its consequences.
With whom do genuine believers who have been justified by faith and are being sanctified enjoy fellowship? They walk with God in His light so they fellowship with Him, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They also have fellowship with other genuine believers. These practice the truth because the truth is in them. On the other hand, there are many who profess some form of salvation, but who are walking in darkness because they are unregenerate and, therefore, the truth is not in them.
The fruits of genuine saving faith declare whether the believer is joined in God. God is the essence of purity and light and will not have fellowship with those who lie in their sin and the walk in the resultant darkness. The genuine believer who is walking in the light will not be looking for loopholes to see how far he or she can go in a certain direction and it not be called sin. No, they are walking in repentance and that means they are moving in the opposite direction from their past sins. They seek holiness and purity in their lives because that is the nature of God to seek our sanctification. On the other hand, a Soul that is enslaved to the flesh will do the opposite. The nominal Christian may want to be justified, but that desire is that it be on one’s own terms. They want to know how far they can go down paths of darkness and it not be called sin.
The effect of the God-Centered Gospel is new life in those whom the Lord touches with His grace. Justification creates fellowship with God and other believers while sanctification results in them walking in the light down the narrow path of repentance. There will be good fruit produced by it. On the other hand, the Man-Centered Gospel only leaves people in darkness, but fooled into believing they are on the road to heaven.
Soli Deo Gloria
1James R. White, The God Who Justifies (Bloomington: Bethany House Publishers, 2001), p. 31.
2From his exposition of Galatians 2:11 in What Luther Says: An Anthology, Vol 2, ed. Ewald M Plass (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), p 705, entry 2200.
3White, Ibid p 73