One month after writing my initial post on the topic of justification in Galatians as presented in the NLT and ESV, I came across this reading by C.F.W. Walther this morning. For those who may not be familiar with Walther, he was one of the founders and first president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (see here for more). Specifically, Walther addresses the question of justification ‘because’ (NLT) or ‘by’ (ESV et al) faith…the initial issue that got me writing in the first place. In this sermon, he points out a common misconception of justification–in his mind–and counters with his understanding of the biblical teaching. He says:
Many think that a person is righteous before God through faith and nothing else, since faith is a good work and a glorious virtue. They maintain that a person makes himself acceptable and pleasing to God by his faith, which cleanses his heart, unites him with Christ, and brings forth the fruit of good works.
It is true that faith has all of these glorious qualities, but it is false to say this makes a person righteous before God. Scripture never says a person is righteous before God because of or on account of his faith. Instead, he is righteous through faith. Faith, then, is not the cause of our justification but only its instrument. It is the means by which we receive righteousness from God.
Faith does not make us righteous before God because it is such a good work and such a beautiful virtue. Precisely the opposite is the case. As [Romans 4.16] informs, faith makes a person righteous before God because righteousness can be obtained solely by grace.
(from God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther, pp. 574-5)
Walther, then, understands justification in the traditional Protestant sense, as “the means by which we receive righteousness from God” not the reason we are considered/declared to be righteous. I’m still struggling with the NLT rendering in Galatians and reading from my ESV a bit more these days.
Has anyone given this any more thought since last time? (crickets…grin)