Article IX is based on the well known Protestant key verse Habakkuk 2:4b, "But the just shall live by faith."
The Apostle Paul was led of the Holy Spirit to write three of his epistles on this text, each epistle emphasizing one certain word in the text. Romans (1:17) emphasized the word, "just" Galatians (3:12) emphasizes the word, "live." Hebrews emphasizes the word, "faith" (10:38).
The Article reads: "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."
The doctrine is well supported by Scripture: Acts 13:38-39, 15:11, 16:31; Romans 1:17, 3:28, 4:2-5, 5:1, 29; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9 and Hebrews 11.
The Article took its present form in 1563, in what is known as the Elizabethan revision. The article, as finally drawn up by Parker, is indebted to the Confession of Augsburg and Wurtenberg for its phraseology.
The object of the Article is to state the mind of the Church on the subject of mans justification. This very doctrine occupied the very center of most of Reformation discussion concerning man and his relationship to God through Jesus Christ.
Note the wording: "We are accounted righteous...by faith...not for our ownworks...justified by faith only."
The doctrine finds its basis in the very first book of the Word of God. We read in Genesis 15:6; 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness." Paul adopts the phrase in Romans 4:5. He uses the thought again in Galatians 3:6. lames, also, refers to this truth in James 2:23.
We discover the true meaning of the word "justification" by examining the sense in which the word is used in the Word itself
In the Old Testament, the active voice is used in every case. It is used in a judicial or forensic sense and means to "do right to a person." It means to do justice to his cause and so to acquit. See Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 25:1; II Samuel 15:4; 1 Kings 8:32; II Chronicles 6:23:
Psalm 82:3, Isaiah 5:23; Jeremiah 3:11; Ezekiel 16:51-52 and others.
The word does not mean "to make a person righteous," but to "make him out righteous," or to "treat him as righteous." It does not mean that we are one bit better in ourselves after being justified than we were before. God simply states that believing in Christ, (John 3:16-18) God sees us as perfect or accounts it as such. God, when He justifies, regards us as "not guilty" or acquitted. (see Genesis 46:16; Job 33:32; Psalm 51:1; 143:2 and Isaiah 43:9).
St. Paul uses the phrase eleven times in his epistles and the meaning is the same as that of the Old Testament.
In the Gospel of Matthew (12:37) the word "justified" is used in opposition to "condemned" and is, thus, equivalent to "acquitted." "By thy words thou shalt be justified and hy thy words thou shalt be condemned." The same thought is used in Luke 10:29, 16:15, and 18:14, "the lawyer willing to justify himself" and the publican "went down justified."
When the phrase "to be justified by faith" is used, Paul uses it twenty-five times, it does not tell us whether the person over whom the sentence is pronounced is really righteous or not. When a man is justified he is "accounted righteous" or regarded as righteous.
The teaching of the Article is clear and distinct. The meritorious cause of our justification is the atoning work of Christ. "We are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ...not for our works or deserving."
This is important because the emphasis must be between the merit of the work of God and the works of man the believer receiving salvation as Gods free gift and earning it by our own efforts. This meritorious cause of our justification by the merit and atoning work of our Saviour is, also, recognized full and frankly even by the Church of Rome.
The Article asserts, "We are accounted righteous...by faith...We are justified by faith only."
What is the meaning of the word "faith." There is no Hebrew word exactly answering to our term "faith." It means trustfulness or frame of mind which relies upon another. Dr. J. Alien Fleece, president of Columbia Bible College, Columbia, South Carolina, gives this definition:
"Faith is believing what God said simply because God said it." Someone else has used the letters in the word for a definition: "Forsaking all, I take Him."
Faith is a principle of trust and reliance upon God and His promises, which leads to practical action and issues in good works. It is not a passive but an active thing.
The article states, "We are justified by faith only." The best scripture that substantiates this truth is Ephesians 2:8-10. The Epistle of James is the best exposition of Ephesians 2:10, especially James 2:14-26. Mere belief is not enough. Even "devils believe and tremble." Faith proves itself in a belief that works, producing the fruit of the Spirit which is "love" (Galatians 5:6).
In conclusion we must consider what is included in Justification by Faith. Pardon from sin and a right and title to eternal life are grounded on this promise. Repentance and obedience arc the necessary conditions or qualifications, but they are not the instruments for obtaining justification. That is through faith in Christ alone.
One may ask, "why did God use faith as the instrument of justification?" and without irreverence, we may say that God selected "faith" as the instrument, not because there is any special virtue in it, or because it is the greatest of all Christian graces, for love is greater (I Corinthians 13:2-3), but because "faith is peculiarly fit for this particular office, since there is in it the element of self-surrender, of trust, confidence, and reliance on self and our own merits. Had we been justified by something else, as love, there would have been the possibility of reliance on
self, and the notion of earning salvation would not have been in the same way, shut out. Further, it is faith which enables us to realize the unseen. It is "the assurance of things hoped for, the proving of things not seen" (Hebrews 11).
So, we are accounted righteous by God, not by our own works, but by the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We
are justified, alone, by what He did, when we, by faith, accept the finished work accomplished by Him on Calvary and
through His resurrection from the dead.