I love the gospel; the pure, unmixed gospel as confessed by Reformed Christians all over the world. It is amazingly good news to be told that we are justified by receiving and resting (WCF 11,2) on Christ and his righteousness alone through faith. To know that his death exhausted the wrath of God against all my sins (past, present and future) and that his perfect righteousness is mine because I am hidden in him gives unspeakable comfort. It makes the weakest, stumbling Christian as bold as a lion when he discovers it.
Yet "Protestants" today seem desperate to jettison the doctrine. The New Perspective on Paul (NPP), particularly N.T Wright's (NTW) brand is a contemporary example of a dilution of this great truth. Wright describes justification as occurring now AND at the judgement. We are justified by faith now, and justified by "the whole life lived" on judgement day. As well as being completely incoherent, this view is completely hope shattering. NTW's view is incoherent because it smacks of a kind of "bait and switch". You are justified right now, in this life, through faith, but after you die, God judges you by your works!? "Come in by faith alone", says the NPP preacher, "now you're justified in this life, you'd better work at getting justified in the next." Eh?
As well as incoherent, I mentioned that this view is hope shattering. Where is the good news in being told that God will give you power to live a clean life so that you can be justified by works on judgement day (even though you're justified by faith in the present!)? As exegetically 'tight' as some of the arguments are, they don't stand up to closer scrutiny. Yet my focus here is not primarily exegetical but practical. It leaves the unconverted legalist convinced that Christianity is baptised moralism and it is a counsel of despair for ordinary believers. In short, it doesn't bear up in real life.
If we are justified by our works, where is your hope when you drop an F-bomb while driving? Where is your hope when you post something silly on your stupid blog? Where is your hope when you say something FILTHY in front of your unbelieving friends? Where is your hope after failing with porn....again? Where is your hope when you find that old bitterness and resentment still eating at you? Still want to be told you'll be justified by your works? By the WHOLE life lived?
If you're like me, and you regularly leave work kicking yourself because of some foolish indiscretion in front of the watching godless world, isn't it good to know that Abraham was justified while still a sinner? Isn't it good to know that it isn't good people God justifies but ungodly ones (Rom. 4:5)? Isn't it good that the dying thief didn't have to rely on his whole life lived on the day of judgement?
If you want hope, let go and let God. There, I said it, a heretical old evangelical catch phrase. But I'm taking it and re-shaping it in a Reformed context. LET GO of trusting in the whole life lived and LET GOD's work for you in the Gospel through the dead, buried and raised Christ be your ground of confidence. Rest in it. Receive it. Ahhh.
We need the gospel. We need to guard the gospel from hope gutters. I really believe that gospel truth is counter-intuitive. There is a natural perversity in all our hearts that wants to drag us away from the good news. If there can be an exegetical basis for it, to consolidate us in our gospel denying perversity, then we're really up the creek. But don't let sola fide go. It isn't too good to be true. It's good AND true. Get to know this gospel of resting and receiving. Read the confessions and study the works of Presbyterians who articulate it so well. The danger of non-confessional churches is that they are filled with adherents who are hazy about the gospel. This is a travesty. Let's keep beating it into our stupid sin-sick heads and hearts.