What Do Protestants Believe About Justification?

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Protestants are united in affirming that we are justified on the basis of Christ’s merits alone, and that faith is the only instrumental or receiving cause of justification, as demonstrated in the following selections from key Protestant confessions: the 25 Articles of Religion (Methodist), 39 Articles of Religion (Anglican), Belgic Confession (Reformed), Augsburg Confession (Lutheran), and Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian).

25 Articles of Religion

The 25 Articles are doctrinal standards for the people called Methodists. They were abridged by John Wesley from the 39 Articles of the Church of England. Article IX, “Of the Justification of Man,” reads as follows:

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings: — Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.

39 Articles of Religion

The 39 Articles are doctrinal standards for the Church of England, and were affirmed by John Wesley, a lifelong Anglican priest, until his death. Article XI, “Of the Justification of Man,” reads as follows:

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

The Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession is a key document of the Protestant Reformation, first written to defend the movement against detractors, and is still a doctrinal standard for Lutherans. Article IV, “Justification,” reads as follows:

We teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by His death has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God accounts as righteousness in His sight, Rom. 3 and 4.

The Belgic Confession

The Belgic Confession is a doctrinal standard for Reformed churches, and was affirmed and defended by Jacob Arminius, along with the Heidelberg Catechism, until his death. Article XXII, “Of Our Justification Through Faith in Jesus Christ,” reads as follows:

We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ with all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more besides him. For it must needs follow, either that all things which are requisite to our salvation are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in him, that then those who possess Jesus Christ through faith have complete salvation in Him. Therefore, for any to assert that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Saviour. Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits, and so many holy works, which he hath done for us and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

The Westminster Confession

The Westminster Confession is the doctrinal standard of Presbyterians, and was often cited and defended by the Methodist divines, along with the Westminster Shorter Catechism (which Wesley revised for Methodists), despite their disagreement with the Westminster Standards at key points. Chapter 11, “Of Justification,” reads as follows:

1. Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

2. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.

3. Christ, by His obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction of His Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet inasmuch as He was given by the Father for them, and His obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for any thing in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

4. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.

5. God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may by their sins fall under God’s Fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.

6. The justification of believers under the Old Testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the New Testament.

Johnathan Arnold
Johnathan Arnold is a husband, father, and aspiring pastor-theologian, as well as the founder and president of holyjoys.org. You can connect with him on Twitter @jsarnold7.